The Chicago Blackhawks have their first matchup of the season against Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators on Saturday night. Rinne has been absolutely fantastic to start the season in goal for Nashville, and assuming he starts for the fifth straight game, will look to keep that momentum rolling vs. Chicago.
Rinne posted a 31-save shutout of the Winnipeg Jets in a 2-0 victory on Friday night, and is currently fifth in the NHL with a sterling .948 save percentage. Other than a shootout loss, he's been dominant this season, and appears to be on the way to a serious rebound after disappointing the past couple years.
Assuming the Predators don't go with backup Carter Hutton in the second night of a back-to-back, Rinne should be the man Saturday. Obviously, the equation changes significantly if Hutton is in goal.
Still, the Blackhawks haven't really faced a goalie of Rinne's caliber yet in 2014-15, even if Jonas Hiller came up huge in that 2-1 loss to Calgary earlier in the week. After peppering 50 shots on Hiller in that one, the team will need to convert more of its opportunities against Rinne on Saturday.
The defense will also look different against Nashville with the return of Michal Rozsival, who is expected to be paired with Trevor van Riemsdyk on the third line. That would presumably mean going back to the old top two, with Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson-Johnny Oduya getting the majority of the minutes.
The move also means David Rundblad is off to the bench, which I don't think anyone is particularly upset about. I'm not bailing on Rundblad yet, but he wasn't nearly as steady as TvR in the first few games of the season. We'll see if Rozsival can do better.
Opponent Breakdown: Nashville Predators
Four games into the season, it's clear that the Predators will again be one of the top defensive teams in the NHL. They finally have a healthy and in form Rinne, Shea Weber remains one of the best defensemen in the league and new coach Peter Laviolette has the team playing a smart brand of hockey.
Nashville currently ranks sixth in the league in overall Fenwick (56.3 percent) and ninth in overall Corsi (53.5 percent). The team doesn't have as many dynamic goalscorers as other contenders, but a combination of Weber, James Neal, Filip Forsberg, Mike Ribeiro and Olli Jokinen gives them some options to back up a strong defense.
The focus will ultimately be Rinne, though, given how well the goaltender has played this season. The Blackhawks ran into a bone saw on Tuesday when Hiller delivered his best performance of the season, and it's possible the team faces another exceptional effort in goal on Saturday.
Rinne is 3-0-1 with a .948 save percentage and 1.25 GAA in four games. If he keeps this up, it's hard to imagine the Preds goaltender doesn't get his first top-5 Vezina finish since 2011-12. Hutton, meanwhile, hasn't played yet this season.
The Blackhawks get Rozsival back Saturday, but forward Kris Versteeg remains sidelined by a lower body injury. While he skated with the team on Saturday morning for the first time in nearly two weeks and is reportedly ahead of schedule in his recovery, we're still waiting on Steegs' return.
For the Predators, Matt Cullen (lower body) and Mike Fisher (Achilles) remain out with injuries. Neither player has appeared in a game yet this season.
When: 7:30 p.m. CT
Where: United Center
Radio: WGN 720-AM