Game Time: 7:30PM Central
Mr. Carrie Underwoods: On The Forecheck
Have you really felt like you just haven’t seen enough of the Predators this year? The Hawks have only seen the Music City Squad once so far this year – you may remember it as the game where the Blackhawks finally remembered that you’re not obligated to always let the other team get one goal in. If you just haven’t had your fix of the Preds… get ready. The Blackhawks will face off against the Preds 3 times in the next 8 days. Predators games are always a bit of a pill, so make sure your fridge is fully stocked and ready to go.
In the last meeting, just 12 games into this shortened schedule, we saw the Hawks rarely ever show the dominance or determination they’re capable of this year but still walk away with a commanding win over a team that always seems to give them fits. And that’s a bit of a problem for the Preds.
They’ve built themselves into a team that seems to always be hanging around the Playoff picture over the past few years. They never really seem a full out threat in the playoffs (only two wins in the last two years… granted, that’s two more than the Hawks have had the past two years) but they are always a team that Chicago fans hate to see on the calendar.
This year finds them in a bit of a different spot though. Instead of hanging around make things difficult for the teams at the top of the Central Division, they’re fighting to stay ahead of the Blue Jackets (As are the Blues right now, though they’ve played a league-low 33 games compared to the 35 of Preds.. 36 for the Jackets). The Predators need a win tonight to tie themselves up for the 8th spot in the conference.
The problem for the Predators though, as always, is scoring. The team ranks 26th in the league for goals/game which shouldn’t really come as a shock to most. This has been a team built on keeping the puck out of their own net rather than one that really flys through red light bulbs. They’re the league’s worst teams in terms of putting the puck on net, averaging only 25.5 Shots/Game. It shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise then that the Preds are actually leading the league in goose-egg games this year. They’re 6th of the year came at the hands of Semyon Varlomov and the Avs on Saturday.
Unlike in the past though, we’re seeing the Predators slip up a bit more defensively than they have in year’s past. While they’ve usually been hanging around the top 10 in the league in Goals Against/Game, they’re middle of the pack this year at 14th. While it took the Avs until OT to finally get their first of the game, it wasn’t the same situation on Thursday against the Coyotes. The Predators allowed 6 first period goals(!) against the desert dogs and I’m surprised Barry Trotz didn’t start bleeding out of his ears. I’m not 100% sure what’s going on with the Predators but it’s almost as if they’re missing some big presence on their blue line. They might want to look into that.
For the Hawks, I think I’ll have to leave it to more eloquent men than myself to sum up how I feel about yesterday’s big win. While it’s always nice to see DLR jump kick his way in from the pen, and even nicer when that happens in Detroit, the Hawks are still a team that had lost 3 of 4 going into yesterday and need a win tonight to avoid dropping 4 of the last 5 at home. I’m writing this the night before so there’s no word quite yet on if the defensive pairings will remain 7-8, 2-4 and 17 or 32-27. The Red Wings had some pressure but never really had utterly dominant cycles like they’re capable of, so there’s very little reason to think Q would switch things up again if he thinks he’s on to something with the new lines.
Likewise, I’m writing this largely before we hear any word on the return of Hossa and Sharp. We know both participated in a full practice on Saturday but it didn’t mean they were skating yesterday and only time will tell if it means anything for today. I’m sure we’ll be filling you in on the comments or twitter if we hear anything… though one of you always seems to hear it before we do anyway.
We’re now entering the last month of the season and the Hawks are still in the driver’s seat for the conference and the President’s Trophy if they want it, two games in hand against a now Crosby-less Penguins. While all those things would be nice, they’re still only steps towards the larger goal. There’s still a lot of bumps and ugly parts to the Hawks game, so now’s the time to get them smoothed out before the real fun starts.
Let’s Go Hawks