NASHVILLE, Tenn. –
So the third-highest-scoring team in the NHL during the regular season suddenly finds itself the lowest-scoring team in the playoffs. How does that unwanted transformation happen?
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was trying to explain to his troops the way out of this vexing conundrum on Wednesday in the face of stubborn opposition from the defensive-minded Nashville Predators.
If Chicago has the image of a team that likes to score pretty goals off the rush, then Quenneville is trying to change that mindset for this series. Yes, the Blackhawks need to score, but he's looking more for a blueprint like his team's 2-0 victory in Game 2, in which Nashville had few scoring chances, than he is a 5-4-type of victory.
"Scoring's been very limited for us in the first three games here," Quenneville said of his team's four goals in three games. "We just think if we have the mentality that whether we're going to win 1-0, 2-1 -- those types of games -- it's going to be good enough production-wise."
Simplicity, second opportunities don't have to be pretty. Ugly goals....
"We're looking for rebounds, tips, screens, deflections, as opposed to the pretty plays," Quenneville said. "We've had offense all year long and trying to be cute about it ain't going to be able to get it done."
What is it exactly that the Predators do so well? For one, they limit opponents' shots and stay out of the penalty box. Nashville ranked eighth during the regular season in shots allowed per game (29.2) and had the second-fewest penalty minutes in the League – and the fewest at home.
They also get great goaltending and have excellent skating defensemen. In short, they're very difficult to play against. That's something the Blackhawks are finding out the hard way, as they trail in the series 2-1 entering Game 4 on Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena.
Right wing Marian Hossa
, who has played in the Stanley Cup Final each of the last two seasons, summed up the Preds' play simply: "They work great as a unit of five. They're always in the right spot, right position. They know we're trying to do some things individually, and that's not going anywhere right now."
The most disturbing part for the Blackhawks comes down to getting outworked.
"Last night, certainly, when we don't work the way we have to – especially against the way they're competing – it makes you look bad," Quenneville said. "You've got to give them credit. They're forcing the play. But we want to get the puck in their end a little bit more. We want more time in their end. we want more puck possession."
Said Patrick Kane
: "You should never be outworked in this League."
So the changes the Blackhawks require are part mindset and part tactical.
"We have to get in the zone and play like you always play and not try to do too much," said Hossa, who has one point in the series, an assist, and is minus-3. "But we try to work hard. Little things like winning battles and going to the net. And maybe try to shoot even when the goalie's expecting it the least."
Nashville coach Barry Trotz threw down the torch after his team gave a less-than-stellar effort in Game 2 and saw David Legwand respond with a three-point effort in Game 3. Quenneville is looking for the same.
"I think across the board we should own up a little bit more," he said. "Take a little bit more responsibility. If you're a top guy, I mean whether you need to score, whether you need to have the puck a little bit more, whether you need to be a little more abrasive, it all adds up when we get the puck a little bit more. Instead of spending too much time in our end, I think that's something we can be better as well. I think everybody can be better."
Those are almost Trotz's exact words from Tuesday morning, to the letter.
But Chicago can take heart in one area -- rookie goaltender Antti Niemi has been outstanding in the last two games. Asked if Niemi was the best player for his team in Game 3, Quenneville found an opportunity to spin it back about offense.
"He's been in some tough spots and he comes out with remarkable saves," Quenneville said. "We just need a little more action at the other end."
Author: John Manasso | NHL.com Correspondent