Another great night from Brandon Saad and the Chicago Blackhawks are atop the Central Division after a 3-1 win over the Nashville Predators on Saturday night. The team's sixth straight victory was a steady outing powered by strong goaltending and a couple of highlight plays from the first-line winger.
Saad is officially on fire of late, adding a goal and an assist against Nashville, each on highlight plays. The score was a laser that beat Pekka Rinne's glove after a strong set up play by Duncan Keith, while he delivered a perfect pass to help another Blackhawk, Marian Hossa, break his own goal-scoring slump for the assist.
The Predators continued fighting on their home ice, and certainly made things interesting in the third period after Colin Wilson's goal 34 seconds in, but there was nothing to be had. Despite a 13-9 shot advantage in the final period -- and 33-31 advantage overall -- it was Scott Darling who proved the superior goaltender in a matchup against one of the game's best.
Darling saved 32 of 33 against the Predators, earning his third victory in four starts with Chicago this season. His numbers, including a .943 save percentage and 1.74 GAA, may not be sustainable, but with each start, it's easier to picture him commanding NHL minutes somewhere down the road.
Hossa more or less cemented the victory with 1:11 remaining when he scored on an empty net, and after things started getting chippy in the final seconds, the referee ultimately called the game.
The Blackhawks' six-game winning streak is the longest in the league at the moment, and with nine wins in their past 10 games, the team is now tied for second place in the Western Conference. Arguably more importantly, there's this:
As long as the team is topping that chart, we're good to go as far as I'm concerned.
3. Marian Hossa
After scoring just one goal in all of November, Hossa topped that number for December in a single game with his output Saturday night. Neither was particularly mind-blowing -- the first came on a basically open net thanks to Saad's perfect pass, the second came on a literally open net -- but it's good to see the winger getting on the scoreboard again. His plus-3 in just over 19 minutes was a season-best.
2. Scott Darling
Remember when we were saying before the season that the Blackhawks' goaltending situation would be fine as long as Corey Crawford stayed healthy? Turns out it would be fine regardless, as Antti Raanta and now Darling have both shown that they're more than capable of holding down the fort in the starter's absence. Darling's size in goal is a serious advantage -- it's no surprise this is the current trend around the league -- and he looks to be nimble enough to take advantage of that by getting around the crease. The Blackhawks have another back-to-back next weekend, so don't be surprised if Darling gets the nod again.
1. Brandon Saad
Saad is the latest 'Hawks forward to find his mojo of late. The goal on Rinne was a thing of beauty, nipping past the goaltender, off the post and into the back of the net. That's a precision shot most guys can't muster, but Saad continues to show he's capable of making high-level plays when he's right. And there's little doubt he's right at the moment after that score and the pass that set up Hossa's first goal. The shooter hardly had to do anything other than slap it into the net thanks to the touch and accuracy that Saad displayed in dishing that one across the ice, and it's almost impossible to stop that kind of thing when the execution is done so flawlessly. Patrick Sharp's return will certainly complicate matters, but right now, it's gonna be hard ripping Saad off that first line.
Yeah Saad, us, too.