Game Time: 7:30 PM
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
Hello, My Treacherous Friends: On the Forecheck
There's nothing like having close family friends in town for the holidays that you're bound by social obligation (or in this case the schedule makers) to see, is there? Tonight, Barry Trotz and the trappiest trap that isn't actually a trap (allegedly) return to West Madison St., having last played the recently departed L.A. Kings on Saturday the night before the Hawks did, and they've had some time to marinate about the 6-1 dick-kicking they received. Prior to that, the Preds had won 8 of their last 9 (and 7 in regulation), so it could have very well have been an aberration. Either way, they're likely none too pleased with that result, and will be looking to take their frustrations out on the Hawks tonight. As usual, the Preds boast a strong defensive unit led by Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, and are 6th in overall goals against and penalty kill with 2.4GA and an 84.6% PK rate respectively. Anders Lindback has filled in quite well for the injured Pekka Rinne (Saturday notwithstanding), as the giant Swedish netminder comes into tonight with a 2.27 GAA and .925 save percentage while facing a paltry 25.75 shots per appearance. Lindback has had to be solid with the Preds only scoring 2.5 per game, and are a dreadful 13.4% on the power play. Former Hawk and current pain in the ass Steve Sullivan paces the team in points with 20, but they have 11 players all at 10 points or greater, so it's the old "death by a thousand cuts" method once again with these guys. Sophomore Cal O'Reilly (brother to the Avs' Ryan) is having a nice campaign so far leading the team in assists with 12, and has 18 points. Holmstrom-wannabe Patric Hornqvist also has 8 goals, and will probably be presenting his smelly Swedish pucker to to Corey Crawford any chance he can get.
The Preds will forecheck hard, hem pucks in at the blue line, and they won't make many mistakes on their own. Given the frequency these teams have played over the last season and a half, there aren't going to be a lot of surprises with what they do, even though I'm sure we'd like to see some- such as Jordin Tootoo not being an anus or Martin Erat not having an annoying goal.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, there aren't any surprises tonight either in the form of the way the lineup will work. Though Viktor Stalberg has been cleared to play by team doctors, he'll still be watching in his neatly appointed doghouse high above the UC ice as John Scott and Jordan Hendry continue to take shifts on the fourth line with Ryan Johnson. Elsewhere the configurations of the lines look the same as they have for the last two wins, with Toews, Brouwer and Sharp as the top line, Bolland, Bickell, and Pisani as the de facto second line, and Jake Dowell between TomoKop and Skille on the third. On the blueline things remain status quo also, though hopefully the blind clearing attempts up the boards will not, as we've seen Nashville exploit that far too many times (we're looking at you, Hammer). Corey Crawford once again starts tonight, and it will be his first against the Predators this year.
In the first two meetings between these two teams, the Hawks gave up late goals to the Preds, either to win or to force OT (where they eventually won in the shootout), but at the time the defense was giving up far more chances then, and the Hawks were still trying to emulate last year's style with this year's personnel. Given the lineup restrictions, the Hawks have simplified their game, and against the style that Nashville plays it could end up being beneficial. And while tonight may look like a slog from an aesthetic standpoint (Wanny), make no mistake, it's going to take a full 60 minute effort against this team (as it always does) to walk away with 2 points. Get pucks deep, get to the net, and pounce on rebounds both in front of Lindback as well as clearing them from in front of Crawford. Let's go Hawks.