The Nashville Predators are in the Windy City to finish off their three-game road trip with a meeting against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center this evening. It's the fourth of five meetings between the two this season and the final skate in Chicago for the Preds. Nashville defeated the Hawks on Opening Night before losing the next two against the Central Division rival.
The Preds finished off a back-to-back set in Florida on Friday with a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Panthers. It was Nashville's first road loss in five tries with Craig Smith scoring the lone goal for the Predators. Nashville was without forwards James Neal and Viktor Arvidsson on Friday night due to upper-body injuries.
On Saturday, the Preds placed Neal on Injured Reserve and recalled forward Frederick Gaudreau from Milwaukee.
Ryan Johansen paces the Preds with 29 points on the season, followed by Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg with 25 each. Mike Fisher and Mike Ribeiro have 22 points apiece; Neal and Roman Josi have 20. Neal leads the team in goals with 14, followed by Fisher with 11 and Arvidsson with 10. Pekka Rinne is 14-10-6 in goal for Nashville; Juuse Saros is 3-3-1.
Chicago (25-12-5) will also be playing their third game in four nights, having won both of their previous games, including a 2-1 victory over Carolina on Friday. Patrick Kane leads the Blackhawks with 41 points, followed by Artemi Panarin with 40 and Artem Anisimov with 31. Anisimov leads the team with 18 goals; Panarin has found the back of the net 16 times. Corey Crawford is 14-8-3 in net; Scott Darling is 11-4-2.
Video: Thomas Willis previews the Preds and Hawks
Morning Update: Viktor Arvidsson skated during Sunday's morning skate, but did not participate in line rushes. Colin Wilson was absent from the session. Nashville's projected lineup may be seen here.
As the Preds look for their second win of the season against the Hawks, here are three things to watch:
Sticking in Smashville:
After failing to make the team out of training camp, Matt Irwin's chance eventually came. Saying he has made the most of it would probably be an understatement.
Irwin was rewarded with his exemplary play over the past couple of months with a one-year deal on Friday night that will keep him in Nashville through the 2017-18 season. With various injuries on the blue line during the season, Irwin has found himself logging top-four minutes on a consistent basis and has done everything asked of him by the coaching staff while posting the occasional three-game goal streak.
"He's been excellent since the recall and getting back into the lineup," Head Coach Peter Laviolette said of Irwin. "The minutes that he's gotten, which started to be in the eight to 12 minute range, and based on the injuries that we had, he got elevated to a higher role and more minutes. With that responsibility, he's answered with his play, and it's nice to see him get rewarded with a contract."
Off the Schneid:
Craig Smith saw his goalless drought come to an end on Friday night, tallying his seventh of the season and first since Nov. 23. Seeing one go in can only help the confidence of the perennial 20-goal scorer, who is one player the Preds would like to see additional production from on the offensive side of the puck. It worked recently for Filip Forsberg; could the same now happen for Smith?
Steal It Back:
When these two teams met just prior to the New Year, a questionable penalty call in the third period led to a Chicago goal and an eventual Blackhawks victory; a game where the Preds felt they undoubtedly played well enough to win. There's always a little something extra at stake when these two get together, and tonight should be no exception in a building that has given the Preds more trouble than not in the recent past.
Take It In:
Tonight's game comes with a 6 p.m. CT start time and can be seen on Fox Sports Tennessee or heard on 102.5 The Game and the Preds Radio Network. The Predators Live! pregame show begins at 5:30 p.m. on the television side with Willy Daunic, Stu Grimson and Lyndsay Rowley; Pete Weber and Brent Peterson have the call from the radio booth.