January 12 – Day 94 – Country meets Chi-Town

The New York Rangers scored the game-winning goal with only 1:42 remaining in regulation to secure the 2-1 victory over the Boston Bruins.

The first goal of the game was not scored until 29:04 courtesy of Third Star of the Game Jimmy Hayes, assisted by Ryan Spooner (his 20th helper of the season) and Zdeno Chara.  The Bruins‘ one-goal lead held into the second intermission.

New York didn’t wait long to level the score after returning from the dressing room, 35 seconds to be exact.  Derick Brassard scored the leveler, assisted by Second Star Mats Zuccarello (his 16th helper of the season) and Ryan McDonagh.  The Rangers‘ late game-winner was courtesy of First Star Jesper Fast, assisted by Keith Yandle (his 21st helper of the season) and Kevin Klein.

Henrik Lundqvist’s record improves to 19-11-4 after saving 32 of 33 (97%), while Tuukka Rask’s falls to 14-12-4 after saving 28 of 30 (93.3%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 37-19-8, favoring the home squads by 24 points.

After a light Monday schedule, we jump back into the swing of things with eight games tonight.  The action gets started at the usual 7 p.m. eastern starting time with two matchups (Columbus at the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh at Carolina [TVAS]), followed an hour later by three more (New Jersey at St. Louis, Buffalo at Minnesota [BELL TV] and San Jose at Winnipeg).  Nashville at Chicago gets started at 8:30 p.m. eastern, followed 30 minutes later by the co-nightcap games (Tampa Bay at Colorado [NBCSN] and Edmonton at Arizona).

Four of tonight’s games are between divisional rivals (Columbus at New York, Pittsburgh at Carolina, Nashville at Chicago and Edmonton at Arizona), while New Jersey at St. Louis and Nashville at Chicago are the only games where both teams are currently qualifying for the playoffs.  Lastly, the PredsHawks game is a rematch of one of the Western Conference Quarterfinals from a season ago.

As has become the norm for games that qualify for all three groups, lets focus in on tonight’s game in the United Center.

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Tonight’s game will be Nashville‘s fourth appearance in the DtFR Game of the Day series, where they host a 2-1-0 record.  Their most recent showing was a 2-1 loss in St. Louis on December 17.  Chicago has been featured 12 times before tonight, with this game breaking their tie with the Rangers for most appearances in the series.  They own a 7-4-1 record when the focus of our attention, with their most recent game being a 6-3 win over the Avalanche on Sunday.

The 19-16-7 Nashville Predators currently occupy fifth place in the Central Division and seventh in the Western Conference, qualifying them for the final wild card position.  Overall, they play a balanced game, but have been slipping of late, losing their last three by a combined score of 13-4.

Nashville is a tough team to figure out offensively, as they seem to be doing all the right things for success.  So far this season, they’ve shot the puck 1300 times (led by James Neal’s 129 attempts), with 8.1% finding the back of the net (only slightly below the league average of 8.8%) for 105 goals (led by Neal’s 15 tallies).  Even the power play has been at least average, with the squad connecting on 19.57% of attempts for 27 goals (led by Shea Weber’s eight goals).  Going along with the special teams play, it is probably not a good thing that the best note associated with the power play is that they’ve only given up one short-handed goal this season.

On the other end, the Preds have allowed only 1117 shots (a total below the league average, thanks in part to Roman Josi’s team-leading 111 blocks), but 90.3% have snuck past 16-13-6 Pekka Rinne and co. for 114 goals.  A significant problem for the defense has been their penalty kill.  Nashville kills only 75.4% of opposing attempts, allowing 31 goals.

As stated before, the Preds are currently riding a three-game losing skid, with their most recent showing being a four-goal shutout loss in Arizona on Saturday.

The 27-13-4 Chicago Blackhawks currently sit in second place in both the Central Division and the Western Conference, trailing Dallas by four points.  Although they play well on both ends of the ice, they definitely a much more offensive-minded team.

The Blackhawks have attempted a significant 1308 shots so far this season (led by Patrick Kane’s 161 shots), of which 9.1% have found the back of the net for 125 goals (25 courtesy of Kane), third-most in the league.  That success continues to the power play, where the Hawks have scored on 22.9% of their opportunities for 30 goals (led by Kane’s 13).

The defense has been good, just not quite as good as the offense.  Led by Trevor van Riemsdyk’s 87 blocks, Chicago has allowed 1308 shots against, 92.3% of which are collectively saved by 23-10-2 Corey Crawford and co., for only 104 goals against, ninth-best in the league.  Probably the most glaring aspect of Chicago‘s game has been their penalty kill, where they only kill 81.97% of attempts (yes, it’s still better than the league average!) for 22 goals against.

Of all the teams for Nashville to try to get their groove back against, Chicago would have to be near the bottom of the list, as the Hawks have won their last seven games, with their most recent being Sunday’s Game of the Day against the Avalanche, which they won 6-3.

These two teams met last year in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, with the Hawks winning the series 4-2 on their way to the Stanley Cup.  The series included two incredibly exciting games, as the first meeting needed two overtime periods after the Preds scored three-straight goals to knot the game at three-all.  Thanks to Duncan Keith, the Blackhawks won 4-3.  Three games later, two overtime periods was not enough, as the Hawks won 3-2 in triple overtime with a Brent Seabrook one-timer.

The story has already been continued this season, as this is the third of five meetings.  Each team’s home arena has seen a home-team blowout victory in a home-and-home series, with Chicago winning 4-1 on December 8 before heading to Nashville, where the Predators won 5-1 two days later.

Some players to watch include Chicago‘s Crawford (six shutouts [leads the league], 23 wins [tied for second-best in the league] and .926 save percentage [tied for ninth-best in the league]) and Kane (62 points [leads the league], 37 assists [leads the league], 25 goals [tied for second-most in the league] and +19 [tied for fourth-best in the league]) & Nashville‘s Josi (111 blocks and 31 points [both lead team]) and Neal (129 shots, 15 goals, 12 at even-strength, and +11 [all lead team]).

The Predators are in desperate need of a win, but I think it’s too tough a task for a road team in the United Center.  The Hawks should win this one, with the potential for their second-straight blowout.

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