After Wednesday’s opening playoff game for the Chicago Blackhawks, fans were thrilled and likely exhausted by a 4-3 double-overtime victory against the Nashville Predators. Though the ’Hawks and their fans got the desired result for the game, while also flipping home ice in the process, that doesn’t mean the ’Hawks played a flawless Game 1.
Let’s take a look at three adjustments the team can make to improve its chances for a regulation victory in Game 2 tonight at Bridgestone Arena.
Note: “Bench Rozsival” is not a realistic adjustment, since Joel Quenneville has no interest in changing his lineup, so I won’t discuss that. Even though we all want to. Rozsival would likely have to shoot the puck into the ’Hawks net five times to be pulled. Maybe. But he really did play better after his flub Wednesday. So there’s that.
Da Windy City
Apr 15, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (35) makes a save against Chicago Blackhawks center Andrew Shaw (65) during the third period in game one of the first round of the the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Shoot low and get in tight on Pekka Rinne. The book on Rinne reads that he’s pretty good at cutting down mid- and high-net shots, especially on his glove side. You can tell he prides himself on this as well. As a 6-foor-6 goaltender, it’s not as easy for him to get a large portion of his body in front of low shots. Recalling Game 1, the ’Hawks did a good job in spurts keeping the puck at Rinne’s skates. When you fire 42 shots on net, some are bound to be toward the lower portion of the net. It will be imperative for the ’Hawks to create as many of those chances as possible in Game 2.
On the same note, two of Chicago’s goals Wednesday came on plays that took place on Rinne’s front porch. Granted, they were both on powerplays, but they both resulted in tallies. On the first, Patrick Sharp jammed a puck in on Rinne stick side, received a rebound and sent it home. On the second, Jonathan Toews simply walked to the front and stuffed one past Rinne’s left skate and pad. It would be nice to see more of this at even strength and from all across the roster. I’d prefer Patrick Kane not do it since he’s more effective further out, and Shea Weber’s eyes would be bigger than beach balls seeing an exposed Kane down low, but pretty much every other ’Hawk can give it a shot in Game 2. This isn’t just something for Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw. In a series this close, scrappy goals will be necessary.
Keep tight on the man with the puck. While the ’Hawks rifled 42 shots in 80-plus minutes Wednesday, the Preds managed an absurd 54, with only four of those coming in the second period. So there were 50 shots attempted by Nashville in about 67 minutes, which is far too many for the ’Hawks to permit. Unfortunately, many of these chances were grade-A opportunities. It seemed as though the ’Hawks were trying to shut down all drives from the point (a wise move when Weber is on the ice) while leaving themselves susceptible to scoring chances below the circles.
I certainly don’t want to see Weber have the chance to launch a puck through Corey Crawford’s abdomen, but the ’Hawks should consider a tighter defensive game against all Preds in the offensive zone. The ’Hawks gave the Preds too much space to operate once they got over the blue line in Game 1, allowing them to complete passes to men below the circles and create premium scoring chances. If the ’Hawks drape themselves on the Preds in a man-on-man style, it can benefit the ’Hawks. They may especially want to consider this on Colin Wilson, who was the best forward on the ice for either team in Game 1. At the same time, they don’t need to be running out of the position to put opposing players into the front row. A controlled but tighter defensive style should be under consideration.