Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Every time the Blackhawks go up against Boris Badenov and the Nashville Predators I find myself sitting there wondering, Why the HELL does Chicago have such problems with this team? Other teams kick the crap out of them regularly, as evidenced by Nashville’s losses to Pittsburgh and cellar-dweller Edmonton just last week. Why, oh WHY, do the Blackhawks usually end up either on the short end of a close game, or being humiliated by a staggering margin against these pukes?

In the 5 games between these teams this season, the Blackhawks have come away with a only one win — and that one went into overtime. Chicago has better records this year against St. Louis, Vancouver, and Detroit (*spitting noise*). They’re laughing at us in Music City, counting the ‘Hawks as an easy win, and hoping that they manage to land Chicago as a first-round playoff opponent instead of the Red Wings.

Nashville fans are laughing at us. That has to fucking stop. Tonight. And that means the Blackhawks had better deliver a crushing blow to this Predators team, and make it clear that taking Chicago lightly will be a costly mistake.

Let’s get this one item out of the way right off the bat. Earlier this month all measure of ballyhoo was let loose when Nashville’s prodigal first-round draft pick Alexander Radulov decided he was going to return to the NHL after all. But while hockey writers all over the continent were masturbating at the thought of his return, and Nashville fans and press hailed the coming of the new Gretzky, it was apparent to most anybody else that this guy would be all hype and no performance. He’s been back for 5 games, and despite playing fully a third of each game he’s notched only 2 goals, 3 assists, and a plus-1 rating. *Yawn* Gretzky? Yeah, my furry white butt.

As with every game thus far, getting pucks past goaltender Pekka Rinne will be the biggest challenge for the Blackhawks tonight. Netminders with save percentages of .922 can be difficult like that. Rinne is a big guy, and he covers a lot of the net even when he’s down in the butterfly. So I will suggest, again, that instead of trying to get pucks through him, the ‘Hawks need to get pucks around him. Work the puck down low, get bodies in front of the goal, use short, quick passes through the paint, and scoop in loose rebounds.

The other thing to be concerned with against Nashville is turnovers. The Predators’ forwards are a nightmare in the neutral zone, swarming like bees on the back-check. Chicago’s defense in particular is going to have to pay close attention to this, and try to prevent a repeat of the 15-turnover performance against Nashville last week. It’s possible that may have had an effect on the final score, what do you think?

In the Blackhawks’ locker room it’s the same measure of chaos that it has been the last dozen or so games, but the team seems to be adapting rather well. Don’t expect any roster changes from the game against St. Louis, Head Coach Joel Quenneville is superstitious about that kind of thing, but there is precious little reason to change the lineup anyhow. The Blackhawks put in a solid effort against the Blues, and if we can remind Corey Crawford to keep the blade of his stick flat on the ice to cover his five-hole, they should be able to keep that momentum going tonight.

The recipe for Thursday’s win was a combination of everyone putting in a defensive effort, and 3 lines of offensive firepower. Dave Bolland’s line turned speed and the requisite peskiness into the first goal of the night; Patrick Sharp’s pick-pocket and breakaway made the Blues look like a Cahokia beer league team; and it’s hard to deny the bust-ass hustle from Patrick Kane. The absence of The Captain has made him turn up the jets and better utilize his speed; against St. Louis, Andrew Brunette finally caught up to him and slammed home his 12th goal of the year.

Once again we must sing the praises of defenseman Johnny Oduya, who is shaping up to be arguably the best rent-a-player the Blackhawks have acquired in recent memory. He continues to rack up the minutes, skating for more than half the game against St. Louis. And during training camp I wondered aloud if this would be a breakout year for winger Viktor Stalberg. I don’t think I’d exactly categorize it that way, but in the last dozen games we have seen the kid finally become the winger we hoped he would be when he first got here — big, fast, strong, and willing to use those attributes to his advantage. If he can bring that kind of game night-in and night-out, he’ll have a legitimate chance to earn a permanent spot as a top-six forward.

Administrative nonsense: Nashville is without the services of forward Brian McGrattan, but I don’t think they care. Chicago, as you know, is missing Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Steve Montador and Sami Lepisto. No formal announcement about starting goaltenders as of this writing, but color me surprised if we don’t see Rinne for the Preds and Crawford for the ‘Hawks.

Before we sign off, a short public service announcement. There’s a fool-idiot sign at Bridgestone Arena that references the “Stanley Cup Champion Nashville Predators.” This is not only false, it is a slap in the face to any team and any player who has earned the right to hoist Lord Stanley’s venerable chalice. Now, I know that Nashville is a popular spot for many Blackhawks fans to do away game road trips, including some of you dedicated Cheer The Anthem-ers. I’m sure you’d agree, it would be a genuine shame if something were to happen to that sign, wouldn’t it? Make sure you do your everything in your power to keep it safe.

But if some ill fate should befall it, be sure to send us the pictures.

7:00pm start in Smashville this evening. You can watch the game on WGN in Chicago; WGN AM-720 has the terrestrial radio broadcast; and, bestill my heart, for the first time EVER, the two satellite radio services — owned by the same company and programmed by the same people — have FINALLY managed to align the channel numbers that are carrying the Blackhawks game — both XM and Sirius Premiere customers will find the game on channel 216.

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