Tonight marks the first game of two consecutive ones for the Chicago Blackhawks against the Nashville Predators, with this one being played at the United Center. The Blackhawks are coming off a 3-1 win at home against Winnipeg on Sunday, while the Preds rode backup goaltender and former Blackhawk Carter Hutton to a 3-2 win in Boston last night.
Despite a win that actually looks pretty good, since the Bruins are having some success this season, Nashville has taken two points in just three of its last 10 outings. That’s still good enough for fourth in the Central Division at 33 points, one ahead of the Blackhawks and tied with the Wild, but with one fewer game played than Minnesota.
This starts the season series between the teams, and they won’t waste any time in resuming it. The next game for both clubs after this one is against each other Thursday at Bridgestone Arena.
Let’s get to the projected starting lineups for tonight’s game, starting with the Blackhawks (courtesy Chicago Sun-Times writer Mark Lazerus):
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Those defensive pairings are guesses on my part, as Rundblad slots back into the lineup for the first time since late October. Trevor Daley will sit out after his head collided with Chris Thorburn‘s knee Sunday. It sounds as though Daley’s injury isn’t serious, but he’ll be out for the foreseeable future. Even though Rundblad is pretty rough all around the ice, it’s better to play him than try to rush Daley back from a concussion or something else. I don’t think Joel Quenneville wants to break up TVR and Seabrook, so he’d have to break up Keith and Hjalmarsson unless he honestly wants to see a Rundblad-Rozsival pairing skating around. It’d play probably four minutes and make us all physically ill.
Crawford will start in net tonight, while the forward lines are slightly altered with Monday’s call-up of Rasmussen and demotion of Tanner Kero. As I had hoped, Rasmussen slots in at third-line center, meaning no Shaw at center (for now) and no Brandon Mashinter on the ice (again, for now). Marko Dano also takes a seat for his second straight game in what would probably be defined as a “teaching moment” by Coach Q. I could easily see either Mashinter or Dano being sent down to Rockford for a defenseman if Daley is out longer than anticipated. If that were the case, I’d hope Mashinter goes, but I’d guess Dano is the unlucky winner in that instance.
On to the Predators.
Pekka Rinne-Carter Hutton
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This is a different lineup from the one we saw in the first round of the 2015 postseason, and it is struggling to produce offensively. Mike Underwood-Fisher and Gabriel Bourque are both on injured reserve, necessitating the call-up of some relative unknowns. Arvidsson, Sissons and Watson were nowhere near the Preds’ playoff roster last season, and none of them have produced more than five points in anywhere from nine to 23 games played.
Josi, after a breakout 2014-15 campaign, is leading the team with 20 points, a plateau which he got to just last night. Neal, who will probably try to run Crawford if the Preds get down by three or more, has 18 points, as do Weber and Forsberg. The Preds have some capable blueliners offensively and defensively, but their forwards have struggled to consistently produce so far.
Behind all of this is Rinne, who is typically stout but hasn’t been so far this season. He’s sporting a .906 save percentage and 2.44 goals-allowed average. But don’t take that to mean he can’t steal a game, even on the road.
Before moving on, it has to be noted Jackman is utilized as a second-pairing defenseman on this team. I may legitimately feel bad for Seth Jones.
Now let’s look at three Blackhawks to watch tonight.
Oct 1, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Dennis Rasmussen (70) reacts after scoring a goal against the St. Louis Blues during the first period at Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
This will be his NHL regular-season debut, and it will come with the benefit of dictated matchups on home ice and being surrounded by two guys who like to get to the net and create some havoc. Rasmussen may very well have to get tied up with someone tonight to keep Shaw from getting beat up. But Rasmussen can’t worry about that; he first just has to worry about his game. He’s had some success in Rockford this season, posting seven goals and seven assists. He probably played alongside Bickell at some point when the two were both in the AHL, so that could be beneficial. Really, Rasmussen’s keys for tonight should be 1) win as many faceoffs as possible; 2) get the puck toward the net for Shaw and Bickell to put home some dirty goals; and 3) be as defensively solid as possible. A lot to think about in your first NHL game, certainly, but if Rasmussen is at least passable in these areas, he’s going to earn more starts from Q and, maybe, help the third line produce offensively.
Nov 28, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Kings left wingTanner Pearson
(70) and Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith (2) chase down the puck in the third period of the game at Staples Center. Kings won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Keith is going to have quite a job tonight, as he’ll probably either be paired with Rozsival or Rundblad and then have to contend with the league’s eighth-best powerplay, along with crafty players like Forsberg and big bulls like Neal. So he has a lot to do, and while there’s no doubt he can stand up to the task, how well he does so will be a key toward the Blackhawks coming away with two points. Additionally, the Preds have the second-worst penalty kill in the NHL, so Keith quarterbacking one of the Chicago powerplay units will be important as well. Did I mention he has this to deal with the next two games?
Dec 7, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber (6) celebrates a goal with defenseman Roman Josi (59) during the first period against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Whichever forwards see the most of Roman Josi and Shea Weber
Josi and Weber are going to be on the ice a lot tonight for Nashville. Josi is 14th in the league in average ice time per game at 24:52, and Weber is right behind him in 15th at 24:37. So it’d be fair to say quite a few Blackhawks forwards are going to see these two tonight, but probably only the first and fourth lines will be tasked with consistently shutting down their offensive production. As mentioned above, Josi and Weber are first and tied for second, respectively, on the team in points. And they produce those points in all situations, as you might imagine from the ice-time scenario. Also:
That was Weber with an insane three powerplay goals Saturday against Detroit (in a loss, somehow), and it was Josi twice last night in Boston. So, for the love of all things hockey, please stay out of the box tonight, Blackhawks. Just as important, though, is that the Chicago forwards tasked with shutting down the passing and shooting lanes for these two do so effectively and as often as possible.