Hockey

Game #19 – Hawks vs. Predators Preview: Bursting With Fear

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 7-7-4   9-6-3

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

WE ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW TRAILER: On The Forecheck

You probably didn’t expect, after that complete shellacking two weeks ago in the same venue, when these two met up again the Hawks would be only three points behind the Predators. And with a win tonight in regulation, the Preds would be feeling hot giardiniera breath on their necks. Such is reality, which is what happens when various parts of your team rotate going haywire for a couple weeks.

The Preds have lost five of six coming into this (a couple in extra time), while the Hawks have sucked up 10 of 13 points in the meantime. Which is how you get this standing. That doesn’t mean these teams are just three points apart in quality overall, and you saw that the last game these two played. The Hawks haven’t been rolled like that since the Suhonen or Yawney days, and perhaps was the start of the process that got the Hawks to change their ways…however minor or major that actually was.

So what’s up with the Preds? Why has it fallen out of gear for them? Well one, the goaltending has been terrible. Pekka Rinne has only had one good start since that October disaster (for the Hawks), and it came against the Red Wings which barely counts. In his other three starts his SV% is .797. Saros has been better in the meantime, though he couldn’t stop that nine-goals-of-fun the Avalanche hung up on them.

The offense hasn’t been all that consistent either. They managed one goal against the Sharks, and one goal against the Rangers in this streak. When they have gotten goals, Rinne has employed the Roger Dorn defense in net.

Is that what the Preds are overall? Probably not, though they’re not an unholy force either. Their Corsi-percentage is just at tick over even. Their expected-goals is just a tick above that. Which is a tad strange for the Predators. And digging a little deeper, it gets a touch confusing.

In terms of attempts, the Preds give up a lot of them. Bottom-10 in the league. They also generate a fair amount for themselves. But when it comes to chances, it’s the opposite. They keep teams to the outside for the most part, but they also don’t get to the prime areas enough themselves. There’s a lot of noise in the Predators’ game right now, in that there’s a lot of stuff happening but not a huge portion of it really means anything. Still, when Rinne is off to the Kerry Wood Memorial Zoo then those half-chances and winged-hopes from the outside are still ending up in twine.

It’s generally not a good sign when your two leading scorers are d-men. One you can get away with. The Preds have a clear line from their top six to their bottom six and their top pairing to their bottom pairings. When Josi and Ellis are on the ice, good things happen and the Preds are on the right side of the ice. Same goes for either Matt Duchene‘s or Treat Boy’s line. But when Nick Bonino or Kyle Turris is the center, again, the Predators back up.

That’s probably why the Preds have made no secret they’d like to move Turris’s ass along, in another brilliant David Poile move. He’s currently centering their fourth line for the rate of $6M a year. They could also probably use another puck-mover on the second or third pairing. Didn’t they have one once? I seem to remember they did. He was pretty good, right? Correct me if I’m wrong.

Another factor the Preds might want to keep an eye on is that they’re currently shooting over 10% at even-strength, which leads the league by nearly a full percentage point. That is likely to come down, and then where will they be?

Turning to the Hawks, who will get Connor Murphy back tonight. While no team should need Connor Murphy this much, the Hawks do and he’s simply been their best d-man last season and the brief time he was around this one. At the moment he seems slotted on the third pairing, as Colliton doesn’t want to mess up what he’s got going with Keith-Gus and de Haan-Seabrook. This won’t take more than a period to change, given the mobility the Hawks need to counter the Preds.

Robin Lehner will be in goal, and he’ll probably need to perform a few miracles like he did last time in Nashville just to keep the Hawks from getting embarrassed. Hopefully this time if he does that it’ll result in points.

This will be something of a test of the Hawks new, aggressive, Loyola-Marymount ’89 ways. Then again, so was Vegas. The Hawks simply couldn’t deal with the Preds speed at forward last time, and they were turning the puck over before they knew they had it. This meant the Preds defense could pinch and move up in the zone to their hearts’ content, as there was no threat the other way.

If the Hawks are still serious about getting behind the opponent’s defense, while risking their defense and center being outmanned down low in their zone, they might get the Preds’ defense to back up. At least it could provide a quick outlet for a defense that’s going to be under serious pressure from the off, even if it’s just laying it out into the neutral zone and causing races back. But going back is where you want the bottom four D of the Preds. It hasn’t worked out well for them lately. The risk of course is that furious Preds forecheck will have even more fun with even less manpower and options for any puck carrier below his net or deep in his zone for the Hawks.

You’d think there’d be a measure of pride for the Hawks here as well. They were made to look like a high school team their last visit. That will still be fresh in the memory banks. Pekka Rinne was basically laughing at them in the postgame. The Hawks still like to think they carry the most pedigree in any matchup. It’s fading, but they still cling to it. Perhaps now would be the time to show it.

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