One half of 21 years and almost $200M of the Preds’ defense

It’s been over two weeks since the Hawks have seen home ice and this will be the last time they don their white sweaters until the final day of February. Having already gathered 8 of 10 points on this road trip, the Blackhawks could come away with nothing in the Music City tonight and still consider this trip quite a success.

And that’s what worries me.

It’s not even just that, though. The Predators had won four straight prior to losing in OT against the Wild at Xcel last night. They were the ones that handed the Sharks their first loss of any kind. They followed that up with a complete dismantling of Hitch’s boys in the backyard of baseball’s best fans (the mutiny is coming and it will be oh so fun to watch). Barry Trotz has his team once again employing that dreaded T-Word that the owners tried so hard to make extinct after the lockout that preceded this past one… it really sucks having to differentiate between lockouts, but I digress. It truly is remarkable what Trotz and general manager David Poile have done in Nashville, building this franchise from its inception.

Pekka Rinne got the night off in Minne-haha last night in favor of Chris Mason so we’ll see the 6’5″ goliath between the 4×6 this evening. He’s been quite hot over his past four outings allowing just three dents to his own twine. This is what makes me concerned more than the possibility of a let-down game or whatever you want to call it. The way past Rinne has always been with traffic in front of him and shots from the tops of the circles, the slot or the point. It’s that traffic that the Hawks may have trouble generating given their current construction. It’s especially concerning for the recently red-hot 2nd line.

Patrick Kane’s performance over these past few weeks has been nothing short of remarkable. While much of his production has come on the powerplay, he’s been able to generate chances for Dave Bolland at even strength. Patrick Sharp still hasn’t quite got in going in the G column, but it’s still too early to be all that concerned. With Rinne’s frame blocking the way tonight, I figure to see the 2nd line struggle more than it has in recent showings. The first and third lines will need to use their size, specifically Bryan Bickell, Viktor Stalberg, Brandon Saad and Marian Hossa, to generate the screens necessary to throw Rinne off his angles.

The powerplay which performed well with a 2-man advantage in Phoenix did not have success in 5-on-4 situations. Nashville hasn’t seen their home ice much, just as the Hawks haven’t, but when they’ve been home they’re operating at just a 71.6% PK clip. They’ve been down a man at least twice in their three home games each and have yet to have a perfect performance on the kill in those showings. Getting some stupidity from common dunderheads Martin Erat, David Legwand or Scott Hanaan will be essential, as will capitalizing on those chances.

The powerplay for Nashville ranks in the bottom third of the league, but unlike its counterpart, has been quite effective on home ice. Again, we’re still dealing with small sample sizes but allowing those powerplay goals against at home hasn’t been that big a deal with the Preds converting four of ten chances on the man-advantage. At Xcel last night, they went 0-for-6 on the powerplay, largely responsible for the game even entering the overtime period. Special teams will likely play a large part in the outcome tonight and are sure to be a factor should the Hawks get frustrated with the pace Nashville is sure to try and set.

Corey Crawford is a lock to start having gotten four days to rest after a nice bounceback in San Jose that saw him allow three goals in a rough first period. It’ll be imperative that he not see a duplicate rocky first frame because if that’s the case, Nashville will retreat to its shell and you’ll be getting plenty of rest for work on Monday.

I had planned on going through the Nashville forwards line by line but, well, as you’ll see it’s rather difficult to discern just exactly what makes those up.

Click to Embiggen

Since the injury to Patric Hornqvist, Trotz hasn’t really been able to send out much stability past his top line of Mike Fisher, Martin Erat and Sergei Kostitsyn. On the backend, Shea Weber is still the stalwart of this defense. He’s rotated between Scott Hanaan and Roman Josi as a partner, finding most of his success with Josi. Hanaan has been on the 2nd pairing with Kevin Klein. Hal Gill, who provides most of his value on the penalty kill, makes up the third pairing with Ryan Ellis.

Forgive me for being pessimistic, especially in a season as successful as this one, but I’d be happy with taking a point out of Nashville tonight. The Hawks have struggled with Nashville’s system, especially Rinne anchoring its defense, for quite a few seasons now. Even in the Cup season, the Hawks were one shorthanded goal and one Hossa miracle from being in a mammoth hole against this same team. Even with Ryan Suter making too much money for the Wild now (really makes Seabrook’s contract look like a bargain), the Predators are, in my opinion, the worst matchup for the Hawks in their own division.

Prove me wrong, Hawks. Or at least use a Jedi Mind trick and take one point. Move along. Move along.