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Hawks, Preds battle to get seasons back on track

by David Kalan
BLACKHAWKS (8-9-1) at PREDATORS (6-5-3)
Last 10:
Chicago 3-7-0; Nashville 3-5-2
Season series --
The Predators hold a 1-0 edge in the season series after scoring twice in the third period, including Joel Ward's game-winner with 26.7 seconds remaining, to down the Blackhawks 3-2 on Oct. 13 at the United Center.
Big story -- Considering these two met in the postseason last year and each looked poised to be among the West's surefire playoff teams, it must be quite the surprise for them to be occupying the bottom two spots of the Central Division, which is fast becoming the toughest in the League. The climb back to the top isn't far, however, and two important points in that climb are on the line Saturday in Music City.
Team Scope:
Blackhawks -- The champs have fallen on surprisingly tough times as the season reaches the quarter pole. After a strong start to its title defense Chicago has tumbled down the standings while dropping four of its last five games. The Hawks currently sit in fourth place in the Central Division, and while the distance between Chicago and first place is a mere four points, the team has played four more games than the Blues and Red Wings, who are both tied for the top spot. Considering the Hawks haven't won in regulation this month, there is plenty of cause for concern in the Windy City.

A surprising lack of offense has been the obvious culprit. Chicago has scored only two goals over its last two games, including a particularly frustrating loss to Phoenix, in which the Hawks dominated the first period of play only to see their one-goal lead disappear after the Coyotes lit the lamp twice in a 35-second span. With this type of production it would be difficult for any team to win, but Marty Turco has had his own issues in net, as the Hawks' current rough stretch has seen his goals-against average balloon to 2.73 on the season.
Predators -- For Nashville, the immediate past is slightly brighter than Chicago's. The Predators are coming off a 3-2 shootout win over division-leading St. Louis Thursday night, but that victory ended a five-game losing streak for the Preds, who seem to be experiencing an equally challenging November swoon. Nashville hasn't won a game in regulation since Oct. 24, and while the offense hasn't had the same dramatic difficulty producing -- the Predators have only scored fewer than three goals once this month -- the typically dependable Pekka Rinne has been struggling in net.

The Finnish netminder has typically been a tower of strength for Barry Trotz's crew, but Rinne has surrendered an almost incomprehensible 18 goals in his last five games. Regardless of who is scoring, for Nashville to regain its footing as it looks to return to the postseason, Rinne will have to snap out of his early-season funk.

Who's hot --
Despite Chicago's offensive woes of late, left wing Viktor Stalberg has managed to tally 4 points in his last four games. … Cal O'Reilly has continued an impressive season, carrying a five-game point streak into Saturday's game.
Injury report --
The Hawks expected to get Dave Bolland back in the lineup after placing him on IR with a rib injury last month. … Nashville's lineup looks to be much thinner, as Matt Lombardi (concussion), Ryan Suter (knee) and Martin Erat (upper-body injury) are all on injured reserve.
Stat pack --
It's no secret that Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa comprise the engine that drives Chicago's offense. Lately, however, that engine has sorely been in need of a refilled tank. Kane, Toews and Sharp have each gone two games without registering a point. Hossa, however, may be a greater concern for Joel Quenneville's crew. He hasn't scored in six games, including the last two after returning from injury.

Puck drop --
It is highly unlikely that either Chicago or Nashville expected to be playing a basement battle a month into the season, but after a rocky November for both of them, a win against a division rival could prove pivotal to getting back into the race.

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