By Amanda DiPaolo
Chicago Blackhawks 24-18-3
Nashville Predators 23-14-6
With just one point separating the Nashville Predators from the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference standings, this weekend’s home-and-home series between the Central Division rivals is an opportunity for the Predators to put some breathing room between them and the defending Stanley Cup champions.
The Predators lead the season series against Chicago 2-1. On October 13th, Nashville came from behind 2-1 to win 3-2 in regulation. Joel Ward scored the game winning goal with less than 30 seconds left to play. Nashville’s second game against Chicago was a 4-3 shootout victory at Bridgestone Arena. The Blackhawks got their first win of the season against Nashville on December 22 by a 4-1 score.
Nashville has won six of their last seven games, losing Thursday night to the Florida Panthers, 3-2. It was the first loss for Nashville since December 28th. Nashville has to put the loss behind them and focus on getting back into the win column. But for Nashville, this task might be more difficult than it seems.
Nashville’s wins have come in bunches, and so have the losses. The Predators started the season 3-0, then went on the lose the next three games in overtime. After two more wins, Nashville followed up with a five-game losing streak. The latest streaky play saw the Predators go on a five-game winning streak followed by a five-game losing streak which was in turn followed by the six game winning streak that was snapped on Thursday.
With the standings so close in the Western Conference, another losing streak would put the Predators quickly out of the top eight.
If Nashville is going to bounce back from Thursday night’s loss they will have to do it without defenseman Shane O’Brien. Suspended for two games, O’Brien will sit out this weekend for a stick-to-the-face infraction on Panthers forward Stephen Weiss.
Defense remains Nashville’s strong suit, having moved up from third to tied for second with Montreal in the League in penalty kill percentage at 86.0 percent. The home penalty kill is best in the League at 88.4 percent kill-off rate.
Pekka Rinne remains nearly unbeatable in net. Rinne allowed more than one goal for the first time in five games on Thursday night. His goals against average is 2.15 and his save percentage is .927, placing Rinne in the Top Five in the League for both categories, an honor shared only with Boston’s Tim Thomas and Washington’s Semyon Varlamov.
The Predators offense will also need to continue to find the back of the net. The last time a winning streak was snapped, the Predators struggled to register more than a goal a game.
David Legwand, Colin Wilson and Marek Svatos will be looked at to light up the lamp at Bridgestone Arena Saturday night. Legwand has seven points in seven games since returning from injury. The Predators have a 6-1-0 record since Legwand’s return to the lineup, and since Svatos joined the Predators squad.
Shea Weber extended his point streak to a career high seven games on Thursday night.
The key to beating Chicago will be solving Corey Crawford. The Blackhawks are on a three-game winning streak and have shut out their last two opponents by 4-0 (Colorado) and 5-0 (Islanders) scores.
With back-to-back shutouts, the rookie netminder has gone 126:25 without allowing a goal.
The defense will need to work on stopping Patrick Kane. While Patrick Sharp seems to always find the back of the net against Nashville, it is Kane who has seven points in his last eight games since returning to the lineup from a lower body injury on December 28th.
Tickets for Saturday night’s game are still available, though are very limited. Game time is 7pm. If you are downtown early for the game, stop by the Arena at 1 pm for NCAA Division I hockey. The University of Alabama-Huntsville is taking on Merrimack College. Tickets are as low as $5 with a college ID, $10 without.
Are you looking for tickets to an upcoming Predators home game? Follow this link for discounted tickets. Make an account and then use the word Preds as the code for the discount.