After a long February break for the Chicago Blackhawks, they are back in action Thursday night against a familiar foe in the Nashville Predators. Nashville currently sits third in the division, and first in the wild card spot, with a record of 29-21-11. This will be the fifth meeting between these two teams, with the Blackhawks leading the season series 3-1. Let’s get into this one.
By now we all know what we will get out of a game against the Nashville Predators. The Preds will look to shut down the ‘Hawks offense, with their good core of defensive players, and the game might get somewhat boring if the ‘Hawks get a lead. What makes this particular game more intriguing is the fact that Nashville is playing really inspired hockey right now, as they have collected a point in their last seven games.
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The Predators are coming off of a win against the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs. In that tilt, Nashville’s Filip Forsberg had his first career hat trick in the second period. In his second full season in the NHL, Forsberg has emerged as one of the best wingers in the game. On the season, he leads the Predators in goals, and second on the team in points behind Roman Josi.
Speaking of Roman Josi, this defensive core that the Predators have going is fantastic. With players like Josi, Shea Weber, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis, the Preds have some players that would look really good in a red sweater. These players love to push the puck up ice to their forwards, but do not enjoy to hit people very much. Besides Shea Weber (133 hits), the other top four defensemen have less than 50 hits. For this game, Weber is currently listed as probable to suit up. He sustained a lower-body injury and may not be ready to go for this one.
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One intriguing story line for this Predators team has been the play of their goaltender Pekka Rinne. Through 49 games, he posts a .906 save percentage while letting in about 2.47 goals per game. These are some of the worst numbers of his career, which is surprising considering the defensemen he has in front of him, and that he has some of the best raw goaltender talent in the league. He did come in second in the Vezina trophy race last season, so this season he has for sure fallen off. Against the ‘Hawks this season, he has let up 10 goals through 4 games.
As for the ‘Hawks, they are coming off the Stadium Series game that I turned off after the second period. They came out flat, and the Wild took over the game and controlled the pace from the word go. They ended up losing 6-1, with Patrick Kane being the only Blackhawk to score. That game was Sunday afternoon, so with this game being on Thursday night, that will be plenty of time for the ‘Hawks to shake that performance off and focus on the hot Nashville Predators.
A story line to keep your eyes on will be the production of the first line. The ‘Hawks have played three full games since Marian Hossa went out, and Richard Panik has stepped in. In those three games, Panik has no points and has a plus/minus of 0. The total line has two goals and five assists since Hossa went out. It will be interesting to see how Panik does, and if the front office really pushes for a top six forward soon. Keep your eyes on number 14 Thursday night.
If you are tired of seeing the Predators come up on the schedule, do not worry because this will be the last meeting between these two teams, barring a possible playoff series.
The puck drops at 7 o’clock and can be seen on NBCSN, and heard on 720 WGN. That’s really all I have for you on this one. Until next time, go ‘Hawks!