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Game Day: Preds vs. Blackhawks

by Thomas Willis & Brooks Bratten / Nashville Predators

(19-16-7) Nashville Predators vs. Chicago Blackhawks (27-13-4)
  7:30 P.M. (CT) | United Center | #NSHvsCHI
TV: FS-TN | Radio: 102.5 The Game


The Nashville Predators are in the Windy City to face the Chicago Blackhawks tonight in the third contest of their current four-game swing away from Tennessee. The Preds and Hawks have seen each other twice already this season, splitting the series thus far, including a 5-1 Preds victory on Dec. 10 in Nashville.

The Predators fell 4-0 to Arizona on Saturday night, while the Blackhawks defeated Colorado 6-3 on Sunday evening, pushing Chicago's win streak to seven games.

Colin Wilson (day-to-day, lower-body) did not skate for the Preds during practice on Monday afternoon and was the only Nashville absentee from the session.

Preds Captain Shea Weber enters Tuesday's game against Chicago two points shy of tying Kimmo Timonen for the franchise record for most points against the Blackhawks. Weber has 28 points against the Hawks (14g-14a), while Timonen had 30 points (8g-22a) against them. In fact, Weber's 14 goals against the Blackhawks are the second-most by any NHL defenseman all-time, and are first among any active NHL defenseman. Only Hockey Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom (30 goals) notched more goals against Chicago over his career than Weber.

Defenseman Roman Josi leads the Preds in scoring with 31 points, including nine goals on the season. Filip Forsberg is second with 27 points (although Ryan Johansen has 28 split between two teams this season), while Weber and Mike Ribeiro are both tied for third on the club with 26 points. Both Forsberg and Weber have potted 11 goals each; James Neal's 15 goals is tops on the club. Goaltender Pekka Rinne is 16-13-6 on the season in 35 starts.

Mike Fisher is on a five-game point streak versus the Blackhawks (2g-5a) while Josi has a three-game point streak against them (1g-2a). Neal, who is one goal away from 200 in the NHL, has 14 career goals versus the Blackhawks, tying his most against any team. Johansen has scored a point in four of his last five games when facing the Blackhawks (3g-2a), while Craig Smith has a goal in two of his last three games versus Chicago.

Patrick Kane leads the Hawks, and the League, in scoring with 62 points on the season. Kane's 25 goals lead the team in the category; two of those goals came last Sunday against the Avalanche. Rookie Artemi Panarin is second on the club in scoring with 39 points and Captain Jonathan Toews has 31 points, including 16 goals. Both Panarin and Artem Anisimov have 15 goals each. Goaltender Corey Crawford is 23-10-2 on the season in 35 starts.

Nashville is looking for their first regular-season win at United Center since March 23, 2014, when they shut out the Hawks 2-0.

First Line Primed for Offense:



The potential impact Nashville’s new top line of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and James Neal can have on a nightly basis is infinite. Consider that a play-making center in Johansen has proven goal scorers in Neal and Forsberg on either wing, and the ability to show up on the scoresheet with regularity exists.

“Nealer and I just have to try to get open, and we’ll get some easy goals for sure,” Forsberg said after the team’s morning skate at the United Center.

Perhaps it won’t be as easy as going to the net and simply waiting for a pass, but then again, with some of the early signs Johansen has shown of his elite talent, maybe it will be.

“We had some good shifts together and had some good looks and we’re getting there,” Neal said of his new line. “It does take time when you have a new guy and a new pieces on a line. It’s going to take some time; it’s going to take Ryan a feeling-out process for him to know us and for us to know him.

“It’ll come sooner than later. He’s got a great skillset and plays with the puck really well, he’s got a good shot - you saw that in Colorado right away - so we’ll be good.”

The Preds will have to be on the top of their game against a Chicago team that has won seven consecutive outings. Of course there is always the memory of last spring’s postseason meeting, but Head Coach Peter Laviolette doesn’t have to say much for his team to know what they’re up against, as they try to string their own winning streak together.

“There’s a realization that you’re playing a pretty good hockey team,” Laviolette said of tonight’s meeting. “If you don’t play good, you probably get embarrassed. You have to show up and play. We’ve done a pretty good job in this building and against them and showing up, playing hard, competing hard and being able to find some wins, but it’s not easy, as everybody knows.”

Tonight marks the start of a stretch of five-straight games against the Central Division, including another matchup with the Blackhawks in Nashville next week. But the focus remains on the present, starting tonight against a familiar opponent.

“We have to find our confidence in our game to be able to beat teams like Chicago and Colorado and looking forward to Winnipeg,” Neal said. “There’s no easy game the rest of the year - there never is - but with the situation we’re in, we have to be confident with what we’re doing. We have to put some points on the board here, and start with that, but no better place to get a streak going or get on a little roll than here in Chicago.”


Predators Game Day Video:

What to Watch for: Pete and Brent Preview


Projected Lineups:

Colin Wilson (lower-body, day-to-day) did not participate in Tuesday's morning skate. The below lineup is based on the line rushes seen in Monday's practice.

Nashville Predators:

Forwards
Filip Forsberg Ryan Johansen James Neal
Viktor Arvidsson Mike Ribeiro Craig Smith
Cody Hodgson Mike Fisher Calle Jarnkrok
Miikka Salomaki Paul Gaustad Austin Watson
Defense
Roman Josi Shea Weber
Mattias Ekholm Ryan Ellis
Anthony Bitetto Barret Jackman

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Goaltenders: Pekka Rinne is the expected starter in net with Carter Hutton serving as the backup.

Extra: (D) Petter Granberg, Gabriel Bourque (IR; upper-body), (F) Eric Nystrom, (F) Colin Wilson (day-to-day, lower-body)


Chicago Blackhawks:

Forwards
Andrew Shaw Jonathan Toews Marian Hossa
Artemi Panarin Artem Anisimov Patrick Kane
Andrew Desjardins Phillip Danault Teuvo Teravainen
Brandon Mashinter dennis Rasmussen Ryan Garbutt
Defense
Duncan Keith Niklas Hjalmarsson
Erik Gustafsson Brent Seabrook
Trevor van Riemsdyk Michal Rozsival

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Goaltenders: Corey Crawford is the projected starter in net with Scott Darling serving as the backup.

Extra: (F) Brandon Mashinter, (D) Rob Scuderi, (F) Richard Panik, (F) Bryan Bickel

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