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Blackhawks Buzz: Win over Nashville will make franchise history

by Eric Lear / Chicago Blackhawks


1. THESE GO TO 11

The Blackhawks have another long streak in the books this season to go with Patrick Kane’s franchise-record 26-game point streak. Sunday marked the Blackhawks’ 11th consecutive victory, which ties the team record set during the 2012-13 season. If Chicago defeats Nashville on Tuesday, the Blackhawks will tie Florida for the league’s longest winning streak of the campaign; the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins own the NHL’s longest winning streak of 17 games. When the streak began on Dec. 29 with a 7-5 win in Arizona, the Blackhawks were sitting in fourth place in the Central, 13 points behind first-place Dallas. Now the Blackhawks have a three-point lead over the Stars and trail only Washington for the best record in the NHL.

“(We’re) happy with the way we’re playing,” Kane said after Sunday’s 5-2 victory over Montreal. “I think we’re trending in the right direction, but not at all satisfied.”

2. KANE YOU DIG IT

On Monday morning, Patrick Kane was named the NHL’s First Star for the week ending Jan. 17, beating out Calgary’s Sam Bennett and L.A.’s Anze Kopitar. Kane shared the league lead with seven points (4G, 3A) last week, including his first career regular-season hat trick on Friday in Toronto. His 29 goals and 40 assists pace the NHL, and he’s opened up a comfortable cushion in the race for the Art Ross Trophy. Kane leads Dallas captain Jamie Benn—last season’s Art Ross winner—by 13 points as of Monday. If Kane does finish the regular season with the league’s highest point total, he’d become the first American-born player to win the award; it would be the ninth time a Blackhawk has led the league in scoring and the first time since Stan Mikita during the 1967-68 season. Just 48 games into the schedule, Kane is one goal shy of tying his career high of 30, set in 2009-10.

3. NASHING TEETH

The Predators enter Tuesday’s Central Division clash on the back of a 3-0 win over Minnesota on Saturday, although the past few weeks have been far less kind to the Predators than the Blackhawks. Nashville has just three wins in their last 10 games, a span that includes a five-game losing streak. The team sports a goal differential of -7 and currently sits in fifth place in the Central with the slimmest of leads on Colorado. The playoffs once seemed like a certainty for Nashville, which has been one of the NHL’s best possession teams all season long, but they now hold the final wild card spot in the Western Conference, with five other teams within five points. Part of the problem has been goaltending, with longtime starter Pekka Rinne struggling to the tune of a .902 save percentage and 2.57 goals-against average in 37 games so far this season. Still, the 33-year-old is still capable of turning in a vintage performance, especially if it means helping his team right the ship with two huge divisional points, so the Blackhawks will need to test him early and often on Tuesday.

4. FROM THE GET-JO

A change of scenery may have helped center Ryan Johansen break out of his early-season slump. He’s played just five games for the Preds after being traded by Columbus for young Seth Jones, but he’s been productive in that short time. The former All-Star has tallied two goals and five assists in a Nashville sweater, including five points over the last three games. Johansen has already started to form chemistry on the Preds’ top line alongside right wing James Neal, who has scored twice against the Blackhawks this season. The pair had been playing with Filip Forsberg, but as of their last outing they were joined by 2014 first-round pick Kevin Fiala, who scored his first NHL goal on Jan. 14 in Winnipeg.

“Our life revolves around hockey, so it’s been pretty easy to get acclimated to a new team and get to start to build relationships with the guys,” Johansen told nashvillepredators.com. “They make it very welcoming and very comfortable, which has been great.”

5. D-UNIT

Even without Jones, The Predators remain loaded with puck-moving defensemen who can put the puck in the net. Roman Josi’s 32 points (10G, 22A) are tops on the team, followed by the heavy-shooting veteran Shea Weber, whose 29 points are tied with Forsberg. Both Josi and Weber were named to the Central Division All-Star team; along with Ryan Ellis (5G, 14A) and Mattias Ekholm (5G, 11A), they make up four of Nashville’s top eight point totals. The Preds blue line, always willing to jump into the play and looking for shooting opportunities, has helped the team get pucks to the net at a high rate this season—Nashville averages 31.2 shots per game, tied with Chicago and Toronto for sixth in the league. With the Preds enjoying last change on Tuesday, the Blackhawks’ top two lines can expect to see a lot of Weber and Josi, who average nearly 25 minutes a night and play in all situations.

THE FINAL WORD

A big key to the Blackhawks’ success in January is that the team has been ready to play right from puck drop, tallying the first goal in each of the last nine games and 10 of 11 tilts during the streak. Not only have they been scoring early, but also often. The Blackhawks have averaged 2.90 goals per game this season, fourth in the NHL, but during the streak that number has jumped to 3.91. With a group effort on defense and superb goaltending leading to the fourth-lowest goals-against total in the league (2.29 per game), it’s not difficult to figure out why the Blackhawks have won 11 in a row. The Predators are always tough customers, and they’ll have something to prove after breaking out of a recent slump. If Chicago can keep up the balanced play, roll four lines and jump on Nashville early, the Blackhawks could be looking at their 12th straight win—and a new franchise record.

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