Special Teams BattleWith both goaltenders playing well – Chicago’s Nikolai Khabibulin has allowed just two goals in his past three starts and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne ranks third in the league in goals against average, fifth in save percentage, and tied for third in shutouts this season –even strength goals should be tough to come by, which will put more of a premium on special teams play. And special teams – particularly the match-up between Nashville’s power-play and Chicago’s penalty kill – has been a determining factor in four of the five games. Nashville has scored a power-play goal in all three of its wins, while Chicago has held the Preds power-play off the scoreboard in the two Blackhawks wins.
The most recent meeting between the two teams, last Friday in Chicago, was the only match-up this season that did not see one of the two teams score a power-play goal, but it took a key Blackhawks penalty kill midway through the third period to preserve a one-goal advantage and set the stage for a late empty net tally in Chicago’s 3-1 win.
In the earlier season match-ups Nashville has drawn momentum from its power-play including a pair of third period man-advantage goals in the February 24 come-back win with J.P. Dumont scoring the game-tying goal with an early third period power-play marker and Shea Weber getting the insurance goal to seal the 5-3 win on a late game power-play. Weber also netted the game-winning goal in the January 10 meeting on the power-play. And going back to the first match-up between the teams, it was a Weber power-play goal midway through the first period that tied the game 1-1 in Nashville’s eventual 3-2 shootout win.
Nashville’s penalty kill – which ranks third overall in the NHL this season at 83.5% and is even better at home killing off 88.6% of opponent man-advantages – has also been sharp against Chicago, negating 17 of the Hawks 19 power-play opportunities. However, the Hawks made good use of their scores, with a power-play goal to open the scoring in their 3-1 win on January 11.