GAME: Nashville Predators (34-18-6) at Chicago Blackhawks (18-31-8).
TIME: Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. EST.
No matter how hard the Chicago Blackhawks try, they've hardly come close to beating the Nashville Predators this season.
The Blackhawks try again to break through for a win over the Predators when the teams meet for the sixth time in 2005-06.
Chicago has outshot Nashville in four of five matchups this season, but the Predators have won all five by a combined score of 27-8. Nashville has outscored Chicago 17-2 in the last three games.
The Predators have averaged fewer than 25 shots against Chicago and given up nearly 37 per game, but have scored at least five goals in each victory. The biggest key for Nashville in its dominance of Chicago this season has been goaltenders Tomas Vokoun and Chris Mason.
Vokoun is 2-0 with a 1.50 goals-against average in two starts against the Blackhawks, stopping 78 of 81 shots in the two wins. Mason has been just as dominant, winning both of his starts and saving 62 of 64 shots for a 1.00 GAA against Chicago.
Even 23-year-old rookie Pekka Rinne has gotten into the act, stopping 35 shots for a 5-3 win over Chicago on Dec. 15 in his NHL debut.
The Predators will be looking to turn around their play after going 3-6 in their last nine games before the break.
Nashville is likely to have its five Olympians - Vokoun, Kimmo Timonen, Marek Zidlicky, Martin Erat and Danny Markov - in uniform Wednesday, but they could be a tired bunch after playing a heavy schedule of games followed by a long flight back to the United States. Playing for Finland, the Czech Republic and Russia, all five Predators were members of teams that advanced to at least the semifinals.
"I think everyone got out healthy," said Nashville coach Barry Trotz, who plans on slowly working his Olympians back into regular duty against Chicago.
The Blackhawks have lost three in a row, and went 3-6-4 in their last 13 games before the break.
The season has been a tough one for Chicago, which has been without its two key offseason acquisitions for much of 2005-06.
Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin signed a four-year, $27 million deal in the offseason, but was a disappointment before suffering a knee sprain that has sidelined him since Jan. 20. He's expected back sometime in March.
Team captain Adrian Aucoin, a defenseman who signed a four-year, $16 million contract with the Blackhawks, missed time early on with a groin ailment and may be out for the season following surgery for a dislocated right shoulder in early February.
"It's been a difficult year for everybody so far, and getting away from the game sometimes doesn't hurt," Chicago coach Trent Yawney said. "Its almost like a new start with the break as long as it is."
The Blackhawks have lost seven straight overall to the Predators.
STANDINGS: Predators - 74 points, 2nd place, 9 PB, Central Division. Blackhawks - 44 points, 4th place, 39 PB, Central Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Predators - Steve Sullivan, 26 goals; Paul Kariya, 39 assists and 58 points; Darcy Hordichuk, 111 PIM. Blackhawks - Mark Bell, 19 goals; Tyler Arnason, 27 assists and 40 points; Matthew Barnaby, 140 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Predators - Power play: 18.7 percent (69 for 369), 8th in NHL. Penalty killing: 85.3 percent (314 for 368), 4th. Blackhawks - Power play: 13.0 percent (39 for 300), 30th. Penalty killing: 84.1 percent (344 for 409), 9th.
GOALTENDERS: Predators - Vokoun (28-14-5, 2 SO, 2.64 GAA); Mason (5-3-1, 3.25). Blackhawks - Craig Anderson (3-9-2, 3.67); Adam Munro (3-4-2, 1, 2.77).
SEASON SERIES: Predators, 5-0.
LAST MEETING: Feb. 4; Predators, 6-0. At Nashville, Tenn., the Blackhawks outshot the Preds 40-19, but Scott Hartnell's three goals lifted Nashville to the rout. Vokoun made 40 saves, while Munro and Anderson allowed three goals each.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Predators - 12-12-5 on the road; Blackhawks - 10-13-3 at home.