Through the efforts of Pekka Rinne and their top six, the Nashville Predators defeated the Chicago Blackhawks at Bridgestone last night.
Smashville does not like the Chicago Blackhawks. This has been the case for several years, in fact, and is not surprising. Recently though, the Nashville Predators are becoming equally disliked in Chicago. Since the famous sweep last year, the Predators are 2-0-1 against the Blackhawks. In other words, the little brother is growing up.
The biggest news going in to the night’s contest came from Chicago. Starting netminder Corey Crawford had the night off, after playing on Monday night. At the other end of the ice, as expected, would be Pekka Rinne. With no disrespect to Anton Forsberg, who is playing decently behind Crawford, this is definitely a favorable matchup for the Predators.
Sure enough, Pekka Rinne was a huge factor in the victory. He made 37 saves on 39 shots, and a few of those seemed like slam-dunk goals for the Hawks. As usual, the Predators lost the slot battle during the game. At 5v5, the Blackhawks had eleven high-danger chances to the Predators’ seven. When you expand to include powerplays, Chicago’s advantage becomes sixteen to nine.
Take a look at the shooting heat map from last night. Notice that four of the game’s five goals came from high-danger areas.
This visual certainly illustrates the Blackhawk’s dominant slot performance. The area directly in front of Rinne’s crease is darker than any other spot on the ice. Like it or not, Nashville escaped with a win on the back of Pekka Rinne.
I would understand if you criticized me for singing the same tune all season. Usually, I think games are won in high-danger shooting areas and based on the performance of centers. More than any other players, they are required to play a complete game.
As usual, Ryan Johansen had a stellar performance. In addition to getting an assist, his possession numbers were the best of any player on the ice. Kyle Turris played a decent game as well, but put up slightly less-than-average possession stats. Colton Sissons and Nick Bonino rounded out the team with subpar performances.
*time on ice at even strength
On the Blackhawks side of things, the centers looked a little better. Their group consisted of Jonathan Toews, Artem Anisimov, Ryan Hartman, and Tommy Wingels. Especially in terms of high-danger chances, they performed better, as a whole, than the Nashville Predators’ centers. Here’s a breakdown of their numbers:
*time on ice at even strength
Grind it out
Those tables alone tell a story. Although the Predators’ top two lines played good games, the Blackhawks forwards succeeded in creating more offensive chances. I’ll say again, if not for Pekka Rinne’s dominant performance, the season series would be 1-1-1 for Nashville.
As they say in every sport, though, the mark of a good team is winning tough games. Not necessarily against tough opponents, but those games that are more grit than glory. Last night, the Predators proved once again that they have the capability of doing just that. When the game isn’t going in your favor, you have to find weapons to give yourselves the edge.
In last night’s contest, those weapons were the power play, which provided the game-winning goal, and goaltending. Don’t let Hawks fans give you a hard time; a goaltender is still very much a member of the team. Just because the opponent failed to get the better of him does not take away from the result.
The Nashville Predators are quickly working their way into becoming a real rival of Chicago. For years, it’s been a one-sided affair. The winds of change are in full force, however; the little brother is growing up.