PUCK DROPS: 7pm Tonight, 7:30pm tomorrow
TV: CSN Tonight, WGN Tomorrow
YELLOW COLLARED TWEEKERS: On The Forecheck
POWER PLAY (’15-’16): Hawks 22.6% (2nd) Predators 19.7% (10th)
PENALTY KILL (’15-’16): Hawks 80.3% (22nd) Predators 81.2% (16th)
Trends To Watch: James Neal has 14 goals in 23 career games against the Hawks, Jonathan Toews has 35 points in 41 games against Nashville
With some personal commitments for all of us and Game 1 taking most of our attention anyway tomorrow, let’s just set up this old school divisional home-and-home all at once. After a pretty stinging loss to open the season, it’ll get no easier for the Hawks as they’ll open the Predators season, perhaps the most anticipated in Music City in their entire history.
Along with that though, the expectations are higher for the Predators than they ever have been. No longer will getting into the playoffs and maybe winning a round do. This is essentially the same team that gave the Sharks everything they wanted over seven games last season, except they’ve swapped out Shea Weber for PK Subban, while adding a year of experience for Forsberg, Johansen, Smith, Wilson, Jarnkrok, Ekholm, and a few others. It’s all systems go for the Preds this year.
While all of that is well and good, the major issue floating over Nashville, other than the collective flatulence from the BBQ, is too much is hinging on the dysfunctional hinges of Pekka Rinne. Rinne has been below average in three of the last four seasons, and the one he wasn’t in ’14-’15 he faded badly in the second half of that season. Given the pace we expect the Predators to play, they’re going to ask their goalies to pull their ass out of a sling a few times per game. They may score four per game, but they’re going to need Ol’ Shit Hip to keep the other teams under three. I don’t know that I’d trust Rinne to do it consistently. Marek Mazanec doesn’t even have impressive AHL numbers, so salvation probably isn’t coming from there if Shit Hip can’t cut it.
It’s also a big test of Johansen this year. While he showed flashes during last season of being a true #1 center, he got swallowed whole and regurgitated by Joe Thornton in the second round last year. It’s one thing to toil in Columbus or under the radar in Nashville last year. Now he’s the #1 center for a true Cup contender, and he’s going to have to prove he’s up to it. The route out of the West could see going a route of Toews, Seguin, Thornton again/Kopitar, so he’s going to have to bring it.
On the Hawks’ side, DING DONG THE TERRIBLE D-MAN IS DEAD! For the first time in two seasons, TVR is a healthy scratch. Even Q couldn’t ignore how awful he was in the opener, and he will ceded the spot next to Keith tonight. That gust you feel is the exhale Kieth let out when he found out the news. The rest of the lineup will stay the same, so no Dr. Rasmussen in for the sinkhole that is Jordin Tootoo.
While the Hawks are boasting more speed than they did last year, it’s going to be quite the study to see if they can keep up with the Predators who figure to go plaid most nights. Hinostroza and Schmaltz and Motte have the feet, but they don’t have the GPS yet. It’s going to come at them even faster tonight and tomorrow. But there should be more openings than there were against St. Louis given the Predators’ aggressiveness.
It would do the Hawks well to get a win in at least one of these. An 0-3 start is going to make some people uneasy and we know what Q’s patience level can be. He could start asking for replacements for the kids in an awful hurry if they don’t get some points this weekend.