Another chapter in the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators rivalry will be written as both teams look to make their climb out of last place in the Central Division.
The Predators have lost four-straight games and five of their last six, while the Blackhawks have lost four of their last six overall. Both teams are ranked outside the top-20 in goals per game while averaging under three goals.
The difference between these two last place teams is it was somewhat expected for Chicago to be in last place, but not so much the upstart Predators who have recently fallen on hard times and can’t seem to get anything to go according to plan.
These two have an afternoon affair on this Saturday at Bridgestone Arena. Here are the top three storylines to watch ahead of this always fun matchup.
#1: The Bedard Show Comes to Nashville for the First Time
In what figures to be many more times in the coming years, Connor Bedard is making his first trip to Nashville while rocking the Chicago Blackhawks sweater. His team may be tied for last place, but Bedard is leading all NHL rookies in points (13) and goals (9).
Bedard has done most of his scoring at even strength with only two points coming on Chicago’s 27th-ranked power play.
What really sticks out when scanning over Bedard’s numbers is his shooting percentage at 20.5 percent. He takes a high volume of shots, and is tied with Roman Josi among the NHL leaders in shot attempts that missed the net. Filip Forsberg is even higher on that list with 28 of his 130 shot attempts missing the net entirely, per MoneyPuck.
So this doesn’t take astrophysics to realize that the Predators need to check Bedard and make him have to find his linemates to make plays. They can’t let him get loose and make open ice plays with his elite puck skills.
As much as some fans and media have been annoyed by all of the Bedard hype that the NHL has paraded around, the kid has absolutely earned that hype. He’s the real deal. No one is arguing against that unless they’re just blatantly biased.
Bedard is more than capable of sending the Predators to their fifth-straight loss today if they don’t keep him in check, block his ability to get easy looks and most importantly, guard against the counter attack which they’ve been burned by in the last two games against Arizona and Anaheim.
Luke Evangelista is tied for fifth in rookie points with nine (1 G, 8 A).
#2: Do the Nashville Predators Finally Turn to Lankinen in Net?
Saros is 73rd in Goals Saved Above Expected after being the NHL leader in that category just last season, and maybe the more alarming stat is his High Danger Save Percentage is among the worst in the league at .656. Your league leaders are up above 80 percent.
I thought the matchup with Anaheim would’ve been a good time to turn to Lankinen and give Saros a break, but Brunette stood by his franchise goaltender. Just four hours before puck drop and the starter for the Predators hasn’t been confirmed yet.
— Robby Stanley (@RStanleyNHL) November 17, 2023
Lankinen has just two starts through the first 15 games. If this trend continues then Saros is in for another season of 60-plus starts, and that point you have to ask yourself what was the point of bringing back Lankinen for another season in the first place when he’s shown he’s a worthy backup?
This isn’t an abrupt call to bench Saros long-term because that would be an awful knee jerk reaction. However, it is fair to suggest giving Lankinen back-to-back starts if he turns in a gem against the Blackhawks today and the Predators end their losing streak.
#3: Significant Injuries for Both Teams
We know all about what the Predators are dealing with on the injury front. The most recent one is really going to test the depth of the forwards with Thomas Novak being out 4 to 6 weeks and is now on IR.
Novak, along with Ryan O’Reilly and Forsberg, is this team’s most consistent offensive producer. Without him, someone else really has to step up their level of play. First to come to mind is Cody Glass, who has already dealt with his own injury troubles and is finally back.
Glass has yet to record a point after seven games, which is a concern and a surprise after he put up 35 points in 72 games in 2022-23. He moved up to second line center against Anaheim and logged 16:29 of ice time and two shots on goal.
This is a recurring theme, but will Philip Tomasino once again been a healthy scratch. The prevailing thought was after the Novak injury that Tomasino would move his way back in, but it didn’t happen against Anaheim. Instead, the team stuck with Cole Smith and Liam Foudy on the fourth line.
The injury to Ryan McDonagh has lingered on and on, and I can’t stress enough how badly he’s needed back. The defensive structure has been inconsistent, and a player like McDonagh makes a goalie’s life so much easier. Especially on the penalty kill, which the Predators ranked 30th.
Taylor Hall is the most recent player added to the injury list for Chicago. He has just eight games played this season. He’s considered a gametime decision per DailyFaceoff.
Adreas Athanasiou is another veteran the Blackhawks were going to be counting on this season, but he’s currently dealing with a lower body injury and is week-to-week.
This is the first of four meetings between the two in 2023-24, with the next matchup on December 5 in Chicago. Puck drop is 1 P.M. CDT.