The Chicago Blackhawks dropped their fourth game in the last five with a 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators on Friday night. The team now has more losses than wins with a 5-4-2 record through 11 games this season.
Let’s just say that the luster has worn off from that hot start to the season. There would be no late comeback or overtime game-winner this time around.
The scoring opened late in the first period when Artem Anisimov finished off a rebound from a Nick Schmaltz breakaway on the penalty kill. Schmaltz had poked the puck loose into the neutral zone and corralled it in for a one-on-one situation with Pekka Rinne, who made the initial stop. Anisimov was able to find the puck before anyone could clear it, though, and gave the Hawks a 1-0 lead.
The first period was all Chicago, but the second period was all Nashville. The Predators held a 13-8 shots on goal advantage and turned their deficit into a 2-1 lead with goals from Calle Jarnkrok and Craig Smith. Jarnkrok’s goal was especially unfortunate as Duncan Keith made a sloppy pass into the middle of the defensive zone that was stolen and quickly converted for a score.
The Blackhawks made a good push late in the third period, including a great play from Schmaltz to John Hayden that required a good save at the doorstep from Rinne, but couldn’t break through. In the end, the stellar goaltending from the Predators was too much to overcome.
But hey, let’s note that the Hawks topped their opponent in shots on goal, 44-30, something we haven’t seen a ton. It’s a silver lining to an otherwise frustrating loss to a division rival.
CHI GOALS: Anisimov (2)
NSH GOALS: Jarnkrok (1), Smith (2)
The penalty kill’s aggressiveness pays off
One of the biggest issues with last season’s PK was how conservative it was. The Hawks’ answer to their disastrous start to the season when shorthanded was to make things super simple and avoid too many risks. That allowed things to settle down, but it still meant they had zero shorthanded counterattack.
This is presumably part of why the Mike Kitchen-for-Ulf Samuelsson coaching change was made over the summer, and we’re seeing the returns. The Blackhawks have more shorthanded goals in the past two games than they had during the entire 2016-17 season.
Last year, the Blackhawks’ penalty kill never took risks, even smart ones. They’re much more willing to push up in the zone and try to force turnovers now, though, and Nick Schmaltz’s great play against Nashville rewarded the team with a goal.
The need for a proper top pairing remains
I don’t know where it comes from. Is it Keith and Seabrook finding a groove? Should Jan Rutta permanently replace Seabrook up there? Or maybe the answer will eventually come from Connor Murphy (more on him below)?
Whatever it is, the Blackhawks don’t have a good top pairing right now. We’ve seen some solid efforts from the Keith-Seabrook duo so far, but on Friday, Keith wasn’t great, regardless of who he was with. Specifically, Chicago’s top pairing struggling whenever it was facing the Predators’ best competition.
Nashville’s top line of Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen, and Filip Forsberg held a 4-0 advantage in 5-on-5 shots on goal against the Keith pairing. That’s obviously a really, really good line, but what made the Hawks great in the past was their ability to match up with those opponents. Not so much right now.
Okay, so that’s why they traded for the Murph Man
We kept waiting for Connor Murphy to have that game. You know what I’m referring to: the game where Murphy actually looks good enough that you can squint and imagine him developing into a key contributor in short order.
The Hawks partially acquired Murphy over the summer knowing his size and mobility would be crucial against speedy opponents like the Predators. For some reason, he was scratched in their first matchup this season. But getting to see that matchup Friday, you can see what GM Stan Bowman was going after.
Chicago outshot Nashville, 18-6, with Murphy on the ice at 5-on-5. He was one of their best defensemen. This was a performance to build off of.
- Pekka Rinne, Predators — 43 saves on 44 shots
- Calle Jarnkrok, Predators — 1 goal, 11-of-15 on faceoffs
- Craig Smith, Predators — 1 goal