With back-to-back victories under their belt and the Christmas break now in the rear-view mirror, the Nashville Predators head north for their third of four trips to the United Center in 2007-08. Nashville is 1-1-0 in its two previous trips to Blackhawks home barn, and hold a 2-1-0 edge in the season series.
This game begins Nashville’s third set of contests in back-to-back nights since Dec. 18 – it turns right back around and plays Columbus at the Sommet Center tomorrow night. The Preds are 2-2-0 on the front end of these situations in 2007-08, winning Nov. 1 at Vancouver and last Saturday against the Los Angeles Kings.
Things have begun to look up for the Preds as a couple of players have broken out of slumps in victories against Los Angeles and Columbus. With a hat trick on Saturday and another multi-point outing two games before that, captain Jason Arnott has eight points (4g-4a) in the last four games. J.P. Dumont also carries a four-game point streak into tonight’s matchup (3g-2a), thanks in large part to the game-winning goal with just 38 seconds left on Sunday. Jordin Tootoo, who has been playing with Arnott and Dumont, logged a season-high 15:50 of ice time, pitching in a helper as well for points in back-to-back games.
The reemergence of the Nashville power play has been crucial in the past two wins, and has produced six man-advantage goals in 20 opportunities over the last four games. As usual, the penalty kill quietly is going about its job of frustrating opposing man-up units, killing 49 of the last 52 chances it has seen, and 29 of the last 30 on the road.
The Predators have had the upper hand in this series since the revamped schedule emphasizing division rivalries was debuted for the 2005-06 season. Since Oct. 25 2005, the Predators hold a 12-5-2 record, including six wins in the past eight meetings dating back to Dec. 20, 2006. The Preds lead the all-time series with a 25-21-6 mark.
Alexander Radulov has seen great success against the Blackhawks in 2007-08, posting six points (2g-4a) in the previous three games of the season to bring his career total against Chicago to eight points (2g-6a) in nine games. David Legwand has also used clashes with Chicago as a catalyst for success, posting 36 points (14g-22a) in 39 career games against, the most a Predator has posted against a single team in franchise history.
Even when the Predators were in the midst of an 11-3-2 stretch from late October to early December, the second period wasn’t kind to them – they were outscored 18-7 in the middle frame from Oct. 30 vs. Calgary to Dec. 13 vs. Colorado. In the past five games though, Nashville has matched its second-period output from the previous 19 outings with seven goals since Dec. 15 at Colorado.
Like the Predators, Chicago won games on back-to-back days heading into the Christmas break, dropping Ottawa on Saturday at Scotiabank Place before defeating the Edmonton Oilers at home on Sunday for its third straight victory. This comes after a tough start to the month for the Hawks which saw them lose six of seven to start December. The Blackhawks are currently four points ahead of the Preds in the standings and sit 10th in the Western Conference.
Overall the Blackhawk penalty kill is right behind the Predators, ranking 11th in the league to Nashville’s eighth-place standing, but the unit has struggled at the United Center, coming into the game 27th in home PK.
The stories of rookie duo Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, who sit first and second in the rookie scoring race, and Patrick Sharp, who leads the league in shorthanded goals and is tied for first in game winners, have been frequently told, but often overlooked are the budding youngsters on the Chicago blue line.
The defensive corps is anchored by a trio in their early 20s. Duncan Keith (24), James Wisniewski (23) and Brent Seabrook (22) all have five goals this season playing in nearly every situation for the Hawks. Dustin Byfuglien, a 22-year-old natural blueliner who has also spent time at forward, has also been a bright spot for the Blackhawks, notching 15 points (8g-7a) in 23 games, including a hat trick back on Nov. 30.
The next three games of the Hawks-Preds season series will be played at the Sommet Center starting Jan. 13. Nashville’s next trip to the Windy City does not come until the season finale on April 4.
All of tonight’s action can be caught on both FSN South and WGFX-104.5 The Zone, and tickets to tomorrow night’s showdown with the Blue Jackets can still be purchased by calling (615) 770-PUCK, logging onto ticketmaster.com or nashvillepredators.com and by visiting the Sommet Center Box Office located in the arena tower.
GAME NOTES: The Predators franchise and head coach Barry Trotz are just one win away from 300 all-time…The Predators are 6-4-2 against the Central Division, 13-2-1 when scoring the first goal of the game and 4-7-0 in the month of December…Jason Arnott leads all Predators in both points (29) and goals (12)…Arnott and Ville Koistinen sit tied for the lead in plus/minus (+7)… Scott Nichol won all six faceoffs he took on Sunday, and is second in the league among players taking at least 100 draws (63.5%)… Dan Hamhuis paces the Preds in average ice time (23:24), and also leads the team in hits (73)… Greg Zanon is tied for third in the NHL, and leads Nashville with 96 blocked shots… J.P. Dumont’s goal with 37 seconds left on Sunday marked the third time this season Nashville has scored the game-winning goal in the final minute of regulation/overtime, with the other two coming vs. Florida on Oct. 27 and at Ottawa on Nov. 29.