PREDATORS (3-5-1) at BLACKHAWKS (5-3-1)
Season Series: Chicago holds a 1-0 edge in the season series after taking the first meeting last week in Nashville, a 3-1 victory on Oct. 15.
Big Story: The Hawks need a win at the United Center to help establish their home-ice advantage, after dropping the first two games of their current homestand. Nashville will be looking to reach .500 on its current road swing.
Predators: Coming into Thursday, things were looking dour in the Music City. The Predators had lost six straight games -- including back-to-back 6-1 and 6-0 losses to the Oilers and Stars -- and were dropping swiftly to the bottom of the standings. Nashville managed to stem the tide in Ottawa, though not wthout some drama. The Preds let three separate leads slip away, and allowed a game-tying score by the shorthanded Sens with just 1.6 seconds remaining before Shea Weber tallied the game-winner in overtime. Despite eventually winning the game, coach Barry Trotz admitted there was plenty of room for doubt to creep in.
"You're on the power play and they score a shorthanded goal with 1.6 seconds left and you're on a six-game losing streak," Trotz said. "That plays with your mind."
A win is a win, but the back-and-forth nature of the contest hasn't alleviated all the concerns for Nashville. For the Preds to climb back into the divisional race, they'll need to start generating offense on the level they did on Thursday. Nashville is currently last in the League, trailing even the winless Maple Leafs, with only 1.89 goals per game. In net, the situation is just as disconcerting, as both Pekka Rinne and Dan Ellis have been unable to make a convincing argument for the starting job. With so many questions on both sides of the ice, Saturday's visit to Chicago will provide Trotz with a chance to find some answers against a familiar foe. If the Preds can't work out the kinks Saturday, they'll get another chance against Chicago five days later.
Blackhawks: After winning five of six to establish themselves as the frontrunner in the Central Division, the Hawks have lost the first two games of their current homestand, a surprising development considering the typically wild crowds at the United Center. While both losses have been by one goal, they both leave questions.
The Hawks opened their homestand with a 4-3 loss to Dallas on a soft game-winning goal against Cristobal Huet. While Antti Niemi appeared to be staking a strong claim to take over the starting role four nights later against Vancouver, the Finnish netminder let up two goals to the Canucks in the third period. While Niemi still boasts a 2.07 goals-against average this season, his and Huet's performances this week have left Chicago's goaltending situation just as muddled as Nashville's.
Of bigger concern to the Hawks right now, however, might be the status of Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews. Seabrook is questionable for Saturday after leaving Wednesday's game against Vancouver with an upper-body injury. While Seabrook is a very valuable part of stabilizing Chicago's blue line, his loss may not have the psychological effect of Toews'. The young Blackhawks captain has missed two days of practice since being leveled by a massive open-ice hit from Vancouver's Willie Mitchell. Coach Joel Quenneville has said both could play Saturday, and seeing two of its young stalwarts take the ice would present a huge lift to a team searching for a way to curtail its current slide.
Who's Hot: Nashville's J.P. Dumont turned some heads on Thursday by potting one goal and setting up four others against Ottawa. The veteran winger now leads the team with seven points this season. Chicago's Duncan Keith tallied a goal and an assist against Vancouver Thursday, giving him points in five of his last six games.
Injury Report: Seabrook and Toews are both listed as questionable for Chicago, while Marian Hossa, Adam Burish and Ben Eager all remain on the IR. Nashville will be without captain Jason Arnott and Jordin Tootoo, while Dan Hamhuis is questionable with an upper-body injury.
Stat Pack: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the five goals scored by Predators defensemen in their win over Ottawa Thursday were the most by a defensive corps in a single game since the Oilers accomplished the feat in March 2004. While it is foolish to expect that kind of productivity on a regular basis, for a team that is last in the League in goals per game, increased scoring from the blue line can only be a good thing.
Puck Drop: Although the Hawks and Preds are generally considered to be in different classes, both teams are in sore need of a victory. With the hole they're in, the Predators need to start collecting points by the bucketful to set themselves up for a run at the postseason. Despite winning its last time out, Nashville still has a way to go to repair the damage from its six-game skid.
While the Hawks are still in first place, they only hold a one-point lead over the Blue Jackets, who have a game in hand. With two straight losses and two injuries hampering Chicago, a win over Nashville would help ease the worry, as well as salvage what is on the brink of becoming a wasted homestand.
-- David Kalan, NHL.com