PREDATORS (29-16-4) at BLACKHAWKS (29-14-6)
: FS-TN, CSN-CH
: Nashville 8-2-0; Chicago 5-3-2.
: This is the third of six meetings between these Central Division rivals. Chicago won, 5-4 in overtime, when these teams first met on Oct. 21, but Nashville evened the season series with a 5-2 win on Saturday at Bridgestone Arena. Five Predators recorded two points, and the win snapped the Hawks' three-game winning streak.
: As the All-Star break beckons, both Nashville and Chicago are searching for any sort of points edge in the most competitive division in hockey. Tuesday's meeting will be a chance for both teams to grab an invaluable head-to-head advantage, and also for Chicago to widen or Nashville to close the two-point gap that exists between the teams.
: There are few teams hotter than the Preds, who have used wins in 11 of 13 to move within five points of conference leaders Detroit. As usual, the Preds are winning with defense. Over that 13-game stretch, Nashville and goalie Pekka Rinne
have held opponents to 23 total goals, good for a plus-19 goal differential. That stinginess was on display again Monday against Columbus, who managed just one goal on 26 shots. The defense, steadied by the return of All-Star Ryan Suter
from upper-body injury, blocked 15 more shots.
"All the pieces are going really well," Rinne said of the Preds' stellar team defense, "and power play has been really good and our penalty kill has been really good. Just defensively as a group, we're playing solid hockey. It's not only the defensemen. A lot of it is forwards, too. They come back, they play hard and they help us down there."
: After a four-game losing skid to start 2012, five wins in seven have kept the Hawks near the top of the West on 64 points. However, Saturday’s loss in Nashville showed some chinks in the armor. The Blackhawks have papered over injuries to attackers Daniel Carcillo
, Patrick Kane
and Jonathan Toews
with young upstarts like Jimmy Hayes
and Andrew Shaw
, but goaltending is still a cause for concern long-term. Usual starter Corey Crawford
conceded four goals on 17 shots before he was pulled, and Ray Emery
allowed one on six. Crawford, who Quenneville said will start Tuesday, has allowed three or more goals in six of his last eight games.
On top of that, many Hawks complained of a lack of effort.
"I'm not sure if (Nashville) played last night, but that shouldn't be an excuse at all," Marian Hossa
said. "They were hungrier. They had more shots than us and we have to learn from this one and get back in a couple of days."
: Nashville winger Patric Hornqvist
has two goals and an assist in his last two games. Hornqvist also has three goals in two games against Chicago this season.
: All-Star blueliner Ryan Suter
was questionable with an upper-body injury but put in 23:02 of ice time Monday against Columbus. Fellow defenseman Francis Bouillon
(upper body) did not play. … Toews (upper body) will not play Tuesday, and is likely to miss the All-Star Game. The Chicago captain appeared to injure his hand Friday against Florida. Patrick Kane
(wrist) is still scheduled for a post-break return. Daniel Carcillo
is out for season with left knee surgery.
: Expect Nashville to keep keying on the power play in Chicago, which enters Tuesday 28th on the penalty kill (78.2). Nashville scored a pair of power-play goals Monday, improving their second-best conversion rate to 22.3 percent. Over their current three-game win streak, Nashville is 4-for-9 on the man advantage.
: Though coach Joel Quenneville would not go into detail about Toews' injury, he did tell reporters there was no "defining blow."
"We have some time off. Have some extra days there," Quenneville said of the weeklong All-Star break. "Hopefully he gets some rest. We'll get a better assessment after (the break)."