PREDATORS (3-0-1) AT BLACKHAWKS (2-0-1)
TV: FS-TN, WGN
CHICAGO -- Still looking to stabilize the third defense pairing, the Chicago Blackhawks are hoping veteran Michal Rozsival is the answer.
The trade of defenseman Nick Leddy to the New York Islanders left the Blackhawks with inexperienced replacement options outside of Rozsival, 36, who missed the first three games of the season with an upper-body injury.
Now healthy, Rozsival will make his 2014-15 debut Saturday at United Center against the Nashville Predators. After being deployed in a two-man rotation at the sixth defense spot the past two seasons, Rozsival has a chance to earn more regular playing time.
"His play will dictate how much he's going to play and how often and how regular," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said recently. "I think he was definitely good enough to be playing regular every game for us the last couple years. We'll see how he does."
Rozsival's health might be a better indication. He played in just two preseason games before getting injured, and he's dealt with multiple injuries since coming to Chicago for the 2012-13 Stanley Cup season.
The reality is Rozsival's health could impact his playing time as much as how he looks on the ice.
"His play or his body [will determine it], either one," Quenneville said. "It might go hand in hand at this stage."
Quenneville said after the morning skate Saturday that Rozsival will likely start out playing the right side with rookie Trevor van Riemsdyk. That will be Chicago's third pair. If it works, it will allow the Blackhawks to keep their top shutdown pair of Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson together in almost all five-on-five situations, like they've done for most of the last two years.
Those two were split up at times during the first three games because Rozsival wasn't available. Seeking balance, Quenneville put Hjalmarsson with van Riemsdyk and Oduya with David Rundblad on the second and third pairings. Things could get back to a more normal look if Rozsival can handle the everyday role Leddy left behind.
"I guess we're just going to have to wait and see what the coaches are seeing and what they want from me," Rozsival said. "As far as I'm concerned, I would like to be there in all situations, but I understand my role on this team. Whatever it's going to be, I'm ready for it. I'm ready for anything, like I have been the last couple of years."
Quenneville said van Riemsdyk also needs to be ready for anything. He plans to start the right-handed shooting rookie, who's played primarily on the right side, on the left side against Nashville.
"I think he's had some real solid games for us and we're going to put him on the left side, or try him on the left side," Quenneville said after Chicago's morning skate. "He's played [in college] on the left side. Not too many right shots can play left or both. That's a nice asset to have, and we'll see how he handles it."
Nashville should be a good test, for van Riemsdyk and the Blackhawks as a whole. The Predators are off to their best start since 2005-06 under new coach Peter Laviolette and come into the game riding an impressive 2-0 victory to spoil the Winnipeg Jets home opener Friday.
Pekka Rinne started that game, earning his 33rd career shutout, but Carter Hutton will get the start Saturday. Corey Crawford will start his fourth straight game for Chicago, which is looking to get back into the win column after losing 2-1 in overtime Wednesday to the Calgary Flames, despite a 50-18 advantage in shots.
Here are the projected lineups:
Filip Forsberg - Mike Ribeiro - James Neal
Viktor Stalberg - Derek Roy - Craig Smith
Colin Wilson - Calle Jarnkrok - Olli Jokinen
Eric Nystrom - Paul Gaustad - Gabriel Bourque
Roman Josi - Shea Weber
Anton Volchenkov - Seth Jones
Mattias Ekholm - Ryan Ellis
Scratched: Rich Clune, Taylor Beck, Victor Bartley
Injured: Matt Cullen (upper body), Mike Fisher (Achilles)
Patrick Sharp - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa
Brandon Saad - Andrew Shaw - Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell - Brad Richards - Ben Smith
Daniel Carcillo - Marcus Kruger - Jeremy Morin
Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Michal Rozsival - Trevor van Riemsdyk
Scratched: David Rundblad
Injured: Kris Versteeg (lower body)
Status report: The Predators had a handful of players participate in their optional morning skate, after getting in late from Winnipeg. … Versteeg participated in the Blackhawks morning skate and appears ahead of schedule in his recovery. Versteeg, who was initially thought to need a minimum of three weeks off, might return sometime next week, which would be about a week ahead of time. … Chicago is down to seven defensemen and 12 forwards after sending defenseman Kyle Cumiskey to Rockford of the American Hockey League on Friday.
Who's hot: Forsberg got the primary assist Friday on the first goal of the season for Neal and carries a career high four-game point streak into the game against the Blackhawks (one goal, four assists). ... Sharp leads Chicago with four points (two goals, two assists) and had at least a point in all three games.