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With Teeth: Predators v. Blackhawks Preview, Pregame Thread, Dog Grooming

Leary vs. oldschool

FACEOFF: 7:30pm

TV/RADIO: WGN for both


For the second straight game, the Hawks will get to host a team that played on the road the night before. Perhaps it’s a bid by the NHL to make it up to the Hawks for making them play 31 back-to-backs per year or whatever it was in previous years. Perhaps it’s just luck of the draw. Either way, the Hawks get their first look at a Nashville team that actually could be… dare I say it… entertaining? Nah, couldn’t be, could it?

For the first time for sure, the Predators will actually have a neck behind their bench. Barry Trotz has waddled off to Washington, and in comes the immaculately coiffed Peter Laviolette. And if you don’t know, with Lavvy comes a very up-tempo, high-pressure style that will strike the fans in Nash Vegas as a completely different sport. Whether Laviolette has the pieces in Music City to actually make it work is a question for another day, but for now it’s going to be a much more vibrant team to watch.

What the Preds do have is a back end that can play this style. Each pair has a player that can really press the play up the ice, be it Weber or Rosi or Seth Jones or Ryan Ellis. Jones and Ellis are the ones to really watch this year as they won’t be getting the tough assignments, both can really skate and are highly skilled. Jones especially paired with Volchenkov might just become what we feared he would when he somehow dropped to #4 in the 2013 draft. Look out below.

At forward? That’s the bigger problem area. They’ve finally let Filip Forsberg up for good, and he’s got five points in four games. The kid’s really nifty, and Preds fans are going to be giggling at getting him for Martin Erat for years. He’s on the top line with James Neal and Mikey Ribs, and has shown keen vision and a sense for ghosting into open areas. Watch closely.

The rest of the forwards fall a little flat, especially with the Jesus-y Mike Fisher on the shelf and Matt Cullen joining him (though Cullen could play tonight). Hawk killers Colin Wilson and Craig Smith are still here, and they’re joined by Derek Roy who has returned to center and in an aggressive system that served him well in Buffalo. The vacant stare of Olli Jokinen is skating on a wing farther down with prospect Calle Jarnkrok.

Pekka Rinne started last night in Winnipeg, so Carter Hutton will come up for air for the first time this season. That’s a break, as Rinne has started this season really well, including a pretty easy-looking shutout of the Jets less than 24 hours ago.

What you won’t see from the Preds tonight is their neutral zone “not trap,” which means you won’t see Preds fans screaming that they don’t trap even though they kind of did. Whereas in previous years the Preds would sit on the boards in the Hawks zone, jamming up any breakout that way and having the one forward sit between the circles, with everyone ready to fold back into the neutral zone at a moment’s notice, now you’ll see the Preds harassing the puck-carrier at the very first opportunity. You’ll see two forwards deep with the third ready to pounce. You’ll see d-men pinching to keep possession going and jump into the play. You’ll see a high-pressure man-to-man in their own zone. It’ll all be in yellow. It’s going to look weird. You won’t be used to it. But that’s these Predators.

For the Hawks, Michal Rozsival returns, and that will cause TVR to flip to the left side. This doesn’t make too much sense as you would think with Rozie with him TVR would be allowed to be more the puck-mover, but how’s he supposed to do that when he’ll have to turn to make any pass unless he wants to do it on his backhand? See how long this lasts, but you’d want van Riemsdyk bursting forward on his natural side. We saw this movie with Nick Leddy, who didn’t really come out of his shell until he was allowed to play his natural side. Some lessons remain unlearned. Other than that, the lineup remains unchanged.

One would think an aggressive opponent should play right into the Hawks hands, but they’ll have to be careful with the puck as these Preds can still spring away from you after a turnover. You don’t want Weber and Ellis and Jones getting too many opportunities to jump up in the rush. Could be an exciting one this early in the year with two teams trying to get after it. Let’s Go Hawks.

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