The Predators will face the No. 1 team in the NHL tonight as the Chicago Blackhawks are in town.
While the Preds victory over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday was an impressive one, the Hawks are with little doubt, the best team in the NHL (both in the standings and in makeup). Chicago has not shown any signs of the classic “Stanley Cup hangover” this season and even a recent injury to starting goaltender Corey Crawford has done little to slow the club down.
Still, Nashville is the owner of a three-game winning streak, the third longest in the Western Conference, and several key pieces in the Preds game have started to go their way recently.
The Predators skate away with their fourth-straight win if:
- Carter Hutton maintains his strong play. After making his first start in a month in the game against the New York Rangers, Hutton has allowed four goals in three games while making more than 30 saves in the last two contests. The Preds usually have trouble finding the back of the net, so limiting an opponent’s goal total is crucial for them. On the other hand, the Blackhawks lead the NHL with 135 goals this season.
- Nashville controls the game in the first period and ends it with the lead. The Preds are a very different looking team when they play with the lead as evidenced by their 12-0-1 record when leading after the first period. When the Preds don’t have to take chances and open up their defensive scheme in an effort to tie the game, their chances at victory rise substantially.
The Blackhawks claim the two points if:
- The Hawks power play wins the special teams battle. Chicago has tallied a goal with the man advantage in nine-straight contests. The firepower of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa is a lot for any shorthanded unit to handle and if the Hawks are able to crack Nashville’s red-hot (of late) penalty kill unit then it could be a long night for the home team.
- Blackhawks jump on the available rebounds. It’s hard to overly-critique a netminder who has made nearly a hundred saves in his last three starts, while only giving up four goals, but if there’s a glaring weakness in Hutton’s game right now–it is his rebound control. The Preds goalie has been able to sprawl out and cover up lose pucks in the last three contests (with some help from his defensemen) but if the Hawks are looking for lose pucks in the crease they will likely be able to find them and cash in.
Just a little under an hour until puck drop between these two Central Division rivals, should be a good one.