Nashville Predators Really Can’t Afford Letdown Loss to Chicago

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JANUARY 09: Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators turns away a shot past Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on January 09, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JANUARY 09: Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators turns away a shot past Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on January 09, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Here’s an example of a game that the Nashville Predators can’t afford to lose in their quest for a sixth-straight playoff appearance. Take care of business.

The Nashville Predators have already played the Chicago Blackhawks three times this season, going 2-1, and with all of the games coming in lopsided fashion.

The last time these two faced each other the Predators took a 5-2 win in Chicago with goals from Viktor Arvidsson, Matt Duchene and Nick Bonino.

This is game you have to win if you’re the Nashville Predators. A wildcard spot is there for the taking, but you can’t just keep kicking the can down the road.

Trap game

Both teams are fighting for their playoff lives, but the Blackhawks have much slimmer hopes. However, they’re a team that didn’t have widespread high expectations to start with.

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The Predators, on the other hand, had very high preseason expectations and shouldn’t even be in this spot of battling for a wildcard spot. They should be up there with the Stars, Blues and Avalanche.

But here were find ourselves, and it can get much uglier from here if the Predators lose to the Blackhawks tonight.

You can somewhat overlook the last loss for the Predators at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes. That’s a very solid Eastern Conference foe that just skated circles around the Predators, and proved they’re probably the better team.

However, the Predators should be able to easily dispatch the Blakhawks if they show up with the same intensity that they’ve shown in recent memory over teams like the Islanders and Blues.

With this unpredictable team, that’s a big “if”.

The possible return of Ryan Ellis

Could tonight finally be the night? The night that Ryan Ellis makes his triumphant and much-needed return to the lineup?

It can’t be stated enough how badly the Predators have missed Ellis since losing him to a nasty blow to the head in the Winter Classic nearly two months ago.

Ellis has finally been making progress in his skating session during practice, and Head Coach John Hynes stated that an official decision will be announced today, per Thomas Willis of the Predators official website.

Even with Ellis joining back in, I’m not sold that this current makeup of Nashville defensemen can take the Predators deep in the playoffs.

Based on projected lineups, Yannick Weber moves out of the lineup to move Ellis to the top pairing with Roman Josi. No disrespect for Weber, but that is refreshing to see Ellis and Josi projected on the same line again.

What’s going on with Nick Bonino?

Nick Bonino didn’t participate in yesterday’s practice, per Brooks Bratten:

Now that presents  serious problem if he misses, which it looks like he will. His line, alongside Rocco Grimaldi and Craig Smith, has been the most consistent and efficient line on this team all season.

Colin Blackwell finds his way back into the lineup for Bonino, and I’ve liked Blackwell’s progress and toughness throughout his games played, but he’s a downgrade from Bonino and causes some shakeups of the lines.

Is it possible that something more is going on with Bonino? It’s pure speculation on my part, but Bonino remains a trade block option for the Predators if a team approaches them with a deal too sweet to turn down before Monday’s deadline.

Looking into tonight’s matchup

I’m scared that this is a trap game for the Predators. They should handle the game pretty easily, but we know the Predators can’t be trusted to take care of business against weaker opponents.

Tonight is a big test for me to see if the Predators have truly turned a corner after doing what they did against the St.Louis Blues last weekend, and what they did the game before against New York Islanders.

The Blackhawks still obviously have some proven offensive firepower that can burn you like Patrick Kane (27 goals), Dominik Kubalik (25 goals), Brandon Saad (18 goals) and Jonathan Toews (16 goals).

However, the Blackhawks lack depth and lean on a lot of youth as well. They’re clinging onto their playoff hopes, but they’re still a season or two away from being serious contenders in the division.

Chicago is also sliding backward in a bad way right now, going 2-6-2 in their last ten games. The Predators have to go in and treat this like they’re playing the best team in the league.

I’ve been patiently waiting on Filip Forsberg‘s luck to turn around in the scoring department, along with Matt Duchene. They’re still impacting the games in positive ways, but they can’t seem to find the back of the net lately.

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I’ll be pushed hard to kiss this season goodbye if the Predators drop this one tonight to Chicago. You just can’t lose games like this to “weaker” opponents and expect to come out of this with any kind of confidence moving forward.