Nashville Predators: Blackhawks, Predators Collide in Central Bout

(Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images) /

A familiar foe will line up against the Nashville Predators tonight, as a battle for Central Division supremacy commences at the United Center in Chicago.

The Nashville Predators are fresh off a 4-1 convincing win over the Dallas Stars and look to build on their two-game winning streak. In order to make it three, the Predators will have to go through the Central Division’s most consistent team of the last decade in the Chicago Blackhawks.

Nashville has shown flashes of excellence, in particular, a solid final two periods in Bridgestone Arena on Thursday night. Sam Girard notched his first NHL goal and picked up a helper later in the period on Filip Forsberg’s eventual game-winner. Girard has been a much needed bright spot for the Predators’ blue line during the absence of Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis. Standout performances against the Stars and Flyers are great, but the true test is in the big games. This tilt with the Blackhawks is a big game.

Checking Chicago

Party like its 2014? All Predators fans can remember the championship Blackhawks teams with the likes of Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp. However, offseason salary cap struggles forced upper management’s hand and broke up the band as those players took their talents elsewhere at the conclusion of the 2014-2015 season.

Well the band is back together, and maybe better than ever. Saad has tallied five goals in five games in his second stint in the Windy City. Sharp is now more of a role player, but has been an effective addition to a team physically dominated by Nashville last year.

In addition to the old newcomers, the usual suspects are lurking around Chicago wreaking havoc around the league. Patrick Kane has a pair of goals and five assists, while fellow Blackhawk lifer Jonathan Toews has accrued three goals in the early going. Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith still man the defense and log the most time on ice – 22:33 and 24:26 respectively.

There are a few faces Predators fans might not recognize that are showing well for the Blackhawks. Young Ryan Hartman, who currently leads the squad in points with eight, has filled in the top six after Artemi Panarin was shipped to Columbus in the Saad deal.

On defense, several up-and-coming names have steadied the Chicago back end. Jan Rutta and Gustav Forsling were big question marks coming into the season. However, both have stepped up as dynamic offensive threats. Rutta, in his first year in the NHL, has scored twice and is a +6 through five games. Forsling, who saw limited action a season ago, has chipped in four helpers and for now, has solidified his spot on the roster.

Corey Crawford is a familiar opponent and no stranger to Nashville fans. In the sweep by the Predators a season ago, it was far from Crawford’s fault. He, perhaps more than anyone, is looking to bounce back. Emotions will run high and Chicago will certainly look to assert their dominance as the premier team in the division. For the Predators, they hope to make it five straight wins over the Blackhawks’ netminder.

Predators Trending Up

The win against the Stars was easily the best defensive performance from both a checking and goaltending standpoint. It was good to see the early playoff version of Pekka Rinne return to the rink. He looked confident, controlled traffic and kept Nashville in the game during a lackluster first period.

PK Subban found the back of the net, albeit an empty net, for this first time this season. His goal was one of two tallies by defenseman Thursday night. Goal-scoring defenseman is something Predators fans have grown accustomed to seeing.  We could see Josi paired with Girard or Subban but either way, it will be nice to have the captain back.

Viktor Arvidsson snapped a wrister by Ben Bishop late in the third period to salt away the game for the Predators. Having earned the contract of a top-six forward in the offseason, Arvidsson’s hustle continues to produce. What he lacks in stature, he has more than made up for in heart. In the deep south, Nashville fans appreciate him as much as anyone. Although, expect the entire league to fall in love with him by the end of this season.

Three Keys to the Game

Be Especially Special

Special teams, special teams, special teams. The Predators have to stay out of the box, but maybe entice the Blackhawks into a few emotional penalties. With the third-ranked power play in the NHL, Nashville needs to continue to dominate the man advantage

5 on 5

When playing 5 v. 5, Chicago is amongst the worst in the NHL in both Corsi (46.36%) and Fenwick (46.08%) percentage. It is imperative that the Predators keep the game at even strength. Chicago has literally won division titles with their potent power play.

Secondary Scoring

Although it is great to see Forsberg fly out of the gates, the Predators must get production outside of the JoFA line. It would be great to see Calle Jarnkrok or Nick Bonino light the lamp and take some pressure off the guys at the top.

Projected Lines

Chicago Blackhawks









Nashville Predators









Follow the Game

Television coverage will start at 7:00 p.m. CST on Fox Sports Tennessee with Predators Live! Pregame followed by a 7:30 p.m. CST puck drop. Willy Daunic and Chris Mason will provide the commentary. Pete Weber and Hal Gill will handle radio coverage on 102.5 The Game on the Nashville Predators Sports Network.

Next: Five Thoughts For Friday, Oct 13th