Game Time: 7:00PM CST
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
Get The Red Out: On The Forecheck
In what is looking more and more to be the case as games tick off the schedule, this will be the last meeting between the Hawks and Predators until Game 1 of the Western Conference Playoffs. And with both teams apparently locked into their respective positions within the division, tonight in Nashville and here on out remain about getting healthy and tightening up play more than about results.
The hosting Preds come into tonight 14 points behind the Hawks, and 6 ahead of the Blues having played one more game. And because the Blues definitely weren’t selling, they ended up getting shut out by Winnipeg on Thursday night and have fallen out of the last wild card spot. So because the Blues can’t stop tripping over their own stupid, gross dicks, that the Preds lost a heartbreaker in Montreal with less than 10 seconds to go in regulation on PK Subban’s return to Molson didn’t end up hurting as much in the standings as it could have. That’s not to say it didn’t hurt however, as giving up a goal that close to getting out with a road point to a team that hasn’t won in 60 minutes in an entire month doesn’t do the ego any favors, and in the course of the game, the Preds lost Ryan Ellis to what looked to be a serious leg injury. Ellis obviously won’t skate tonight, though his prognosis is now better than first anticipated. But that doesn’t mean that his absence won’t be felt, with Ellis having emerged as the Preds’ clear #3 behind Subban and Roman Josi. Anthony Bittetto, last seen by Hawks fans getting his face smashed in by Jordin Tootoo in October will get the call instead. How that affects the Preds’ pairings remains to be seen, but it should ill-affect Josi, who had 16 points (6G, 10A) from the blue line during the month of February. Four of those six goals came on the power play, where the Preds are a constant threat from the blue line with Josi’s mobility and accuracy, and Subban’s WMD of a right handed shot. It stands to reason that the Subban-Ekholm and Irwin-(Yannicl) Weber pairings would go unchanged with Bittetto joining Josi, but Peter Laviollete could jumble things up as he sees fit. Either way, the Preds third pairing and Bittetto can be targeted and beaten far more than either Josi or Subban.
Up front, the Predators acquired PA Parenteau at the deadline for a sixth, but it’s still unlikely he’ll make an appearance tonight. He’s been out with a hand injury after blocking a shot, and still isn’t quite ready to go. Parenteau is the vert definition of “a guy”, with vaguely positive possession metrics, so by virtue of the fact that he’s always cheap the Please Hire Me Carelords completely overvalue what he brings to the table. But in the end, he’s a 33 year old forward who has played in 12 playoff games and has 2 playoff goals. If the Preds are going to make any noise, it’s going to have to be on the back of Filip Forsberg, their only true gamebreaker among the forwards, and who has been simply out of his fucking mind over the past two weeks. Prior to Thursday against the Habs, Forsberg had scored goals in 5 straight games, which included two hat tricks and one two-goal game. For those counting at home, that’s 10 goals in his last six games, which is absurd. Forsberg has one of the most deceptive and quick releases in the game, particularly being a right handed shot, and he doesn’t need much space to put a puck where he wants it to be. Naturally during this streak, the Eugene-From-Walking-Dead-Looking-Motherfucker that is Ryan Johansen (aka Bloated Jason Spezza) has piled up the assists. But the secret ingredient to the Preds’ top line is Viktor Arvidsson, their own little Swedish cannonball, who is hellacious on the forecheck and has been barreling dick-first into goals all year, setting a career high 21 goals and 24 assists, after a season of 8 and 8 last year. Retrograde Piece of Garbage Mike Fisher still anchors the second line, but James Neal has been moved to the third as Calle Jarnkrok as finally been moved back to his natural center, and Vern Fiddler has returned to Nashville and will surely be running his mouth all night from the fourth line.
But the biggest question marks for Nashville still remain in net, where Laviolette has started to waver a bit in giving Juuse Saaros more time in the cage as Ol’ Shit Hip Pekka Rinne still is only a shadow of his former self. Rinne has once again pulled the see-saw act with how his months have gone, coming off an .888 save percentage February after a .935 January. He was solid on Thursday against the Habs, allowing only 2 on 26 shots, but Paul Byron’s short side shot he allowed with 8 seconds to go is clearly one he’d like to have back, and he looked quite stiff and immobile in trying to get over for it. At this point, no one, not even the Predators know which Rinne they’re going to get on a nightly basis- the one that can steal a game with his glove hand alone, or the one whose hip is held together with toggle bolts and prayers.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, they probably expended more energy than they wanted to in dispatching the Isles in a shootout last night, but with what almost amounted to a pre-season lineup out there it was slightly to be expected, and the Hawks still clobbered the Islanders on the shot attempt ledger. The big news to come out of last night was that Scott Darling will miss about three weeks after being injured in the morning skate, the scuttlebutt being that he took a shot off his hand that ended up stinging a bit more than usual. So Jeff Glass will remain in uniform tonight and for a good chunk of this month it seems, but the question remains on who is starting tonight. Corey Crawford looked solid last night, and his workload has been light of late after battling an illness. Furthermore, the Hawks do not play again until Thursday night at home, so he’d get plenty of rest afterward too. It really all depends on if this team now really has next Sunday’s tilt with the Wild circled for control of the division or not. Throwing Glass out on the road against the Preds and their always dangerous power play would make it a clear punt on Q’s part, and also a little sadistic towards Glass. And with the likelihood that these two meet down the road, the sandbagging sonofabitch gambler that Q likes to view himself as may start Glass just for disinformation purposes.
Among the skaters, it’s really anyone’s guess on what the forward lines will be, as it was heavily hinted at that Anisimov and Schmaltz could be back for tonight, but if neither are ready there’s really no need to push it. At this point those viewing at home should gird their loins for more of the Tanner Kero, #2 Center Experience just in case. On defense, it has been clearly laid out when Ebenholts Och Elfenben will be returning, so the pairings should remain the same. And it’s probably not out of line to remark in this space just how comforting it has been to see Keith and Seabrook reunited as a pairing to long-time observers, like an oversized novelty tshirt with curse words on it, worn on weekends with yellow, hardened armpits and indelible stains left from various shitball foods.
With so many variables on both ends of the ice, it’s clear this game could go any number of ways and still have little consequence in the standings at all. The Preds are a solid possession team overall, but have been nearly entirely dependent on two guys of late for their success. It’s not a coincidence that neither Josi or Forsberg scored on Thursday and they lost. But with Ellis out their blue line looks even more top-heavy than usual, and if the Hawks have a full compliment of forwards, it could be exploited even with last change. Either way, both of these teams play at a high pace, and with plenty of Hawks fans finding their way into the building on a Saturday night, there should be plenty of energy in the atmosphere. Let’s go Hawks.