Photo: AP/Mark Humphrey

Did you hear? Jim Balsillie came to Nashville! Who? Jim Balsillie! The owner of the company that makes BlackBerry smartphones who has more money than Daddy Warbucks and wants desperately to buy an American NHL team and move it to Hamilton, Ontario except he’s pissed off enough owners of existing teams that nobody will ever let him buy controlling interest in an NHL franchise and even if he somehow weaseled his way into buying one they would never EVER let him move it to Hamilton because Gary Bettman is a butt-munch and has convinced the owners that he should get whatever he wants and he hates Jim Balsillie’s guts! That guy! He was in Nashville!

Does this mean he’s trying to buy the Predators? Is he trying to assemble various minority interests to form a majority stake? I think you’d have better luck trying to pick which reality TV show Kate Gosselin is going to show up on next.

Okay, so now that we’ve gotten that news out of the way, the Nashville Predators come into the United Center tonight fresh off a 6 – 1 beat-down by the Los Angeles Kings, ending the Preds’ six-game winning streak. The snaggle-toothed pussy… cats sit just a point ahead of Chicago in the Western Conference, though they (like most teams) have three games in hand.

The recent success of the team is largely due to the play of backup goaltender Anders Lindback, who went 6-1-1 while starter Pekka Rinne was out with a leg injury. Tonight marks Rinne’s return to the lineup, but he will spend the evening on the bench. When a goalie is as hot as Lindback, there’s no reason to make him sit. They are saving Rinne for tomorrow night’s start against Ottawa.

Also reportedly back from injury is forward Patric Hornqvist, second on the team in goals and tied for fourth in points, which should add some punch to the Nashville offense. Center David Legwand is out for tonight, though with his 8 points and -2 rating in only 18 games, his absence will hardly be noticed.

And look who’s sitting right atop the stats in both goals and assists for the Predators: none other than lovable fire hydrant and former Blackhawk center Little Stevie Sullivan! Steve has 10 goals and 20 points and a +7 rating while averaging 17 minutes a night. All this after fighting to return from a back injury that sidelined him for 18 months. We still love ya, Stevie: just don’t think we’re going to go easy on you.

Nashville is  well down on the list of teams in terms of goals scored and shots, and their power play is anemic; but only three teams in the league allow fewer goals against, and their PK is formidable. They are content to sit on a one-goal lead or ride a tie game into OT, as we saw in the two tilts we lost to them earlier this season. This team is built around blunt instrument defense, a dump-and-chase two-man forecheck, and opportunistic scoring: we should expect nothing different from Boris Badenov’s squad as they take the ice this evening.

The Blackhawks were to have one name returning to the injury-depleted roster: Viktor Stalberg was knocked goofy a week ago during a game, but has progressed enough to have been skating with the team at practice both Tuesday and Wednesday. But for some reason the team decided to err on the side of caution, and he will sit another game. That essentially means we will see the same lineup as we did against Los Angeles.

In other roster news, newcomer Ryan Johnson has been fitting in nicely. He is a -1 in two games with no points so far, but he’s a steady 70% in the face-off circle and is proving to be a quick and aggressive one-man forechecking machine — facilitating line changes while he single-handedly pins down the opposing team’s defensemen. He’s putting in just 8 minutes a game right now, but at practice on Tuesday he was centering a line with Marian Hossa and the afore-mentioned Stalberg. So there may be bigger plans for him. Stay tuned.

Administrative nonsense: in addition to Stalberg, Hossa and Patrick Kane are also confirmed no-go; Corey Crawford gets the start in goal.

Game time is the typical 7:30pm. Special treat tonight for out-of-town Blackhawks fans: Yahoo! Sports will carry a live web-cast of the Hawks/Preds tilt. Click here at game-time and enjoy. Local TV is Comcast SportsNet, broadcast radio is WGN AM-720, and XM subscribers should look for channel 204.

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