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Analysis

Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators Renew Rivalry Tonight

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NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 20: Pekka Rinne
NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 20: Pekka Rinne /
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The Chicago Blackhawks will face off tonight against their 2017 playoff nemesis, the Nashville Predators, and emotions will run high at the United Center

“If I had ever been here before, I would probably know just what to do.
Don’t you?”

The Nashville Predators will bring a 2-2 record into the United Center tonight when they take on the Chicago Blackhawks in a Central Division showdown.

The Preds are coming off a 4-1 victory over the Dallas Stars on Thursday night.  The ‘Hawks, meanwhile, will bring some bitter memories of a playoff sweep last season at the hands of these very Predators.

This will be in addition to the stinging memory of a disappointing and controversial loss to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night.  We know that an angry hometown team will come out with some fire in its belly.

“If I had ever been here before on another time around the wheel I would probably know just how to deal with all of you”

In the Minnesota game, the ‘Hawks displayed the same offensive flatness from previous games that has gotten them into some trouble.  Their top line of Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsRichard Panik has performed well but has not been able to carry the team on its back.  The ‘Hawks need this trio to pressure the strong Nashville defense.

The second line of Ryan HartmanArtem AnisimovPatrick Kane has struggled to consistently mount any offensive attack.  As the Minnesota game progressed, Tanner Kero and even Tommy Wingels centered for Hartman and Kane, which added a little more speed but not enough impact.

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Kane needs someone on his line he can get crazy with. I was surprised that coach Joel Quenneville didn’t temporarily move up Patrick Sharp or Alex DeBrincat to the second line to add some missing high-end skill.  If center Nick Schmaltz returns for the game tonight, this will be a moot point.

The early lackluster effort in the Minnesota game may have inspired John Hayden to take on tough guy Marcus Foligno in the second period to provide some spark, but it wasn’t enough.  With P.K. Subban (remember his takedowns of Toews in the playoffs) coming to town Saturday night, Hayden might look to stir things up again.

“And I feel like I’ve been here before”

Last year, the Predators exposed the ‘Hawks’ defense as a group lacking speed.  There were moments in the Minnesota game where Duncan Keith was paired with Jan Rutta, and Brent Seabrook was paired with Michal Kempny.

These may have been rotational blips, but as the coaching staff continues to evaluate what it has, we may see some defensive changes.  The potent lines the ‘Hawks will face tonight may force this issue.

“And you know it makes me wonder what’s going on under the ground”

As I wrote before the start of the season, this team does have some ifs that need to be resolved.  The good thing about the schedule is that the first eight games are against teams that were in the playoffs last year.  There are no weak teams to beat up on to build false confidence.

What we can be confident about is that this year’s coaching staff is showing patience in discovering what talent this team has this early in the season.  This hasn’t been the case in years past, where winning every game was the emphasis.

Next: Don't Neglect The Blackhawks During Cubs' Run

So, as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young wrote about Deja Vu, we fans may have that strange feeling as the Predators come to town.  But things are changing with these Blackhawks, and you can sense that they won’t let history repeat.  If any history does repeat, let it be like opening night, where the ‘Hawks were determined to show who’s the boss.

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