Hello again friends!
As you may have noticed, I was forced into a month long writing hiatus due to a major project for school, for which I am extremely sorry. For those that care, you will be pleased to know that (1) I completed my senior project and (2) I think it went marvelously! Due to that, I may be a little rusty in delivering my Game of the Day, and I hope you forgive me as I work out the rust.
That being said, there’s been a lot of hockey happening between then and now, and I’m not in the ‘Hockey in the Last Month’ business. Let’s take a look at what today’s Game of the Day is!
Tonight’s schedule includes a total of seven games, with three (Montréal at Detroit [RDS], Ottawa at Tampa Bay [RDS2] and Washington at Florida) beginning at 7:30 p.m. eastern. Three games get started half an hour later (Philadelphia at St. Louis, Chicago at Nashville and Columbus at Winnipeg), followed an hour later by Buffalo at Calgary (SN360), tonight’s nightcap.
Three of tonight’s matchups are divisional (Montréal at Detroit, Ottawa at Tampa Bay and Chicago at Nashville), while two are between two teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Montréal at Detroit and Chicago at Nashville). Since one of last year’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinals was between Chicago and Nashville, we’ll focus in on Bridgestone Arena.
Currently, Chicago lays claim to the final divisional spot in the Central Division’s playoff bracket and fourth place in the Western Conference with a 15-9-4 record (34 points). They are currently riding a two-game winning streak, with their last game being a 4-1 victory against these same Predators in the United Center only two days ago.
So far this season, Chicago has employed strong play on both sides of the ice. By pairing four more goals scored than the league average with four goals against than the league average, the Hawks have moved their way past the Preds and Wild into the third divisional spot.
An especially strong point of the offense has been the all-important power play. Chicago has scored 20 power play goals (led by Patrick Kane) so far this season (three more than the league average), as well as earned two more opportunities than the league average. Both of these numbers combine to yield the Hawks a 21.98% power play rate, which exceeds the league average by almost 2.75%.
Even when down a man, Chicago has been better than the rest of the NHL. So far this season, they’ve tallied three shorties (two of which belong to Artem Anisimov), which leads the league average by a goal.
While all of these goals are great, the real reason the Blackhawks have been successful has been their forwards putting pucks on goal. They’ve registered a total of 851 shots so far this season (98 of which belong to Kane), which leads the league average by 35 shots. Because of this, their 9.2% shot percentage slightly exceeds the league average.
On the other end of the ice, Corey Crawford (13-7-2) and co. have kept a few more goals out of net than their average league counterpart – four, to be exact. Aided by Trevor van Riemsdyk’s 53 blocks, they’ve only allowed 70 goals so far this season by saving 91.6%of the 826 shots they’ve faced.
On the other end of the ice is a 14-9-5 Nashville team that currently occupies the lesser of the two wildcard positions. Nashville‘s game has focused more so on the defensive end of the ice, but they’ve been struggling of late to keep the puck out of the back of their own net, made evident by the 13 goals they’ve given up in their last four games played.
As it currently stands, Pekka Rinne (11-7-5) and co. have given up 74 goals, exactly the league average. One of the main reasons this number has been so high, especially on a goalie as strong as Rinne, has been the lack of success on the penalty kill. 22 of Nashville‘s goals against have come when a man down, even though they’ve given up three less opportunities than the average NHL team. Due to this, their kill rate is below the 80.74% league average, which is only hurting this team’s chances of being a strong force in the Central Division and the Western Conference as a whole.
Offensively, there’s been a lot of bad puck luck happening to the Predators this year. They’ve put 881 shots on net so far this season (led by James Neal’s 89), well over the league average, but they only have 71 goals to show for their efforts (led by Neal’s 10 tallies). One of the main things keeping Nashville together this season has been their success on the power play. So far this season, the Predators have notched 20 power play goals (led by Shea Weber’s eight tallies) on only 86 attempts, giving them a strong success rate of 20.83%.
Tonight’s game between these two squads is the second in a five-game season series. Game 1 just occurred only a couple days ago. That game witnessed the Hawks taking a 4-1 victory at the United Center, with Andrew Shaw notching the game-winner on a power play during the 15th minute of the second period, assisted by Teuvo Teravainen and David Rundblad. A total of seven Blackhawks were mentioned on the score sheet that night, and they will intend to do the same in Nashville this evening.
Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Chicago‘s Crawford (13 wins [tied for fourth in the league] and two shutouts [tied for sixth in the league]), Kane (43 points [leads the league], 26 assists [leads the league], 17 goals [second in the league] and +13 [tied for sixth in the league]) and Artemi Panarin (19 assists [tied for seventh in the league] and 28 points [tied for eighth in the league]) and Nashville‘s Roman Josi (79 blocks, 21 points, 14 assists and one shorty [all stats lead team]), Neal (89 shots and 10 goals [both lead team]) and Weber (64 hits and eight power play goals [both lead team]).
Even though Nashville has been a much better home team than road team this season, I still expect Chicago to win this matchup, mostly (1) because of the way Nashville has been skidding recently (3-5-2 in their last 10 games played) and (2) my belief that Chicago is simply the better team so far this season.