So this is when it's supposed to start to get fun, right? Both the Predators and the Blackhawks come into tonight's tilt missing their top centers, Jason Arnott and Jonathan Toews, respectively. There was optimism yesterday that Toews and Brent Seabrook both might still be able to play tonight, but as we posted earlier, neither participated in today's morning skate, and are out tonight. Since they're both at least slightly concussed, it's probably a wise idea to not push them to return too soon, particularly in October. Having one concussion increases the risk of another, especially if one is not fully recovered from the first one. Just ask Ben Eager. The Hawks plan on having both Toews and Seabs around for a long, long time, so it's smart on the coaching and training staff's part to keep them out long enough for a proper recovery.
Their absence does create quite a large void in the lineup, however. At press time here at the SCH offices, newcomer Andrew Ebbett is slated to take Toews' spot between Patrick Sharp and Andrew Ladd, and the recently recalled Jake Dowell filling in on the fourth line. Defensively, look for Barker to be paired with Keith, and Sopel and Hendry to comprise (a likely sparsely used) third pairing. I'd expect the Soupy/Hammer pairing to remain in tact. However, we do need to remember that this team is coached by Joel Quenneville, and all these combinations will likely be a giant goat-fuck by the second period. Oh yeah, and Cristobal Huet gets the start in net.
The Hawks are coming into tonight's game off of their first loss in which they were genuinely outplayed. Vancouver executed the gameplan that they couldn't last May, and the Hawks were suckered into undisciplined mistakes. One would expect a more controlled effort coming off of that, but with all the changes in the lineup, that might be a tall order.
Nashville arrives in town off of a win over Ottawa in which they scored half as many goals(6) as they had in their previous 8 games combined. And it was with #1 center Jason Arnott on injured reserve as well. Despite this outburst, the Preds' offense is still anemic at a 9.1% conversion rate, and they're thinner at forward than than Lara Flynn Boyle on a coke binge. The entirety of their offense is basically coming from two guys, J.P. Dumont and Steve Sullivan, and after that, there isn't much of anything. That being said, Martin Erat will somehow find his way onto the scoresheet, just because that weasel always seems to against the Hawks.
Look for the Preds to try to gum things up and bring the game down to a pace that they can handle, because in spite of the injuries, the Hawks still have a much more balanced attack that can give the Predators and their underrated defensemen problems. Nashville's shitty start has had more than a few pundits wondering aloud if coach Barry Trotz's time has finally run out in the Music City, but rest assured, the man can coach, and he will have a gameplan in place to try to manage the Hawks as best as his team is possibly equipped to.
The Men of Four Feathers will need a solid start this evening in order to take some of the pressure off of Huet, because there are are 20,000 people in the building just waiting for him to shit the bed. Additionally, they'll need one to dictate the pace to Nashville, because the longer the game remains tight, the more that plays into Nashville's hands, and things could get ugly.