The Chicago Blackhawks welcome the Nashville Predators to the United Center for the third match this week between the Central Division rivals. Chicago owns a 3 – 0 – 0 record in the season series, including a 3 – 2 shootout win in Chicago on Monday and a 1 – 0 shutout in Nashville Saturday afternoon.
Chicago has frustrated Nashville defensively all season, allowing the Predators only two goals in three games. There is no doubt that the performances of Ray Emery and Corey Crawford have been key factors in shutting down Nashville’s scoring capability, but the help of the defense and penalty kill in front seems to be the biggest factor.
“They [Nashville] got an opportunity there and I thought was probably the key moment in the game,” said Chicago’s Head Coach Joel Quenneville on a four-minute double-minor penalty assessed to Daniel Carcillo partway into the third period. Chicago has allowed no power play goals for Nashville this season on six chances, an area in which the Blackhawks have struggled to control elsewhere this season.
The return of Marian Hossa and the addition of Michal Handzus has given Chicago a bit of a jump despite the shootout loss to St. Louis on Thursday night in Chicago. Hossa has set up his adjusted linemates of Toews and Saad 3 points (2G, 1A) since his return against Nashville on Thursday night in Chicago. Handzus has recorded a 69% faceoff win percentage in his first two games with Chicago since being traded earlier this week.
Nashville has been able to frustrate Chicago as well, especially defensively. As Head Coach Barry Trotz recalled after yesterday afternoon’s 1 – 0 loss, “we’ve held the highest scoring offense in the league to 3 goals… they have three [goals], we have two.” Pekka Rinne has been in net for all three games between these two clubs and has faced 97 shots for the struggling Nashville Predators.
Patrick Sharp is still out for the Blackhawks, but Queneville has indicated he is close to returning from his upper-body injury. He has been injured for nearly a month and the Blackhawks are 7 – 3 – 1 without Sharp in the lineup. Colin Wilson, Gabriel Bourque, and Paul Gaustad are all out for tonight’s game with upper-body injuries.
In the third and final match-up this week between Nashville and Chicago, physicality will be key. Hal Gill and David Legwand are not shy about stepping up for a big hit but Chicago has shown a good response this season to such aspects of the Predators’ game. The Hawks’ speed and passing precision should be able to shut down any momentum-shifting attempts from Nashville due to physicality.