The Chicago Blackhawks may be down against the Nashville Predators, but they’re far from out as Game 2 awaits at 7 p.m. on Saturday night. The Predators lead the series 1-0 after opening with a victory at the United Center and will look to put the Hawks in a serious hole with another.
There’s little reason to overreact, though, because the Blackhawks are just 2-6 in first-round Game 1s since 2010. They usually need a moment to gather themselves and get the ball rolling, and after a lackluster end to the regular season with Artem Anisimov out of the lineup, it wasn’t totally surprising to see them come out flat.
In the second and third periods of Game 1, the Blackhawks held a 52-21 advantage in shot attempts and a 23-9 advantage in shots on goal. Even with the Predators doing a good job of taking away the middle of the offensive zone, the biggest reason for their win was Pekka Rinne playing out of his mind.
Over the past five seasons, Rinne has a .914 save percentage in the regular season, and his career playoff mark is the exact same figure. So he probably won’t be playing at such a high level for an entire series, which hopefully will open up the scoring a bit more starting Saturday.
Three things to watch for
An escalation of physical tactics
One of the most notable aspects of the NHL playoff action Friday was the big hitting of the Oilers’ Zack Kassian and a ridiculous borderline assault by the Blue Jackets’ Matt Calvert of Penguins forward Tom Kuhnhackl. Not to put those two things in the same category because Calvert’s was objectively worse, but it’ll be interesting to see how other teams react if the league doesn’t lay out suspensions, especially for what Calvert did.
Great stuff from Matt Calvert at the end of the PIT-CBJ game pic.twitter.com/DKx788BZf6— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) April 15, 2017
Will other teams see that the league is taking a modest approach to these hits and decide it’s worth pushing the boundaries? This is part of why the NHL needs to lay down the law now with a whole lot of playoff hockey ahead. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be surprising to see teams testing just how far they can go without incurring the Department of Player Safety’s wrath.
Changes to the power play
The Blackhawks, quite frankly, should have a better power play with the tools at their disposal. All the ingredients are there, yet the results are usually underwhelming. They’re taking a filet mignon, overcooking it, and making a dang sandwich out of it. Or something. I’m not a chef.
But that power play! The Blackhawks went 0-for-2 against the Predators, and that’s after a 2-for-25 finish over the final seven games of the regular season. They’ve become predictable with their perimeter passing, always trying to shift the defense so they can make a quick cross ice pass for a big shot while the goaltender is going side to side. That’s a fine plan when it works, but as teams have realized it’s the Hawks’ primary play, they’ve done a good job keeping shape to take it away.
Now the question is whether the Blackhawks might try to mix it up in some way. Part of the goal should be more down-low passing that forces the defense to crunch in near the net, and less of a dependence on long-range shots from Artemi Panarin and Brent Seabrook. Or maybe they’ll just keep doing their thing and try to overcome a power play that should be better.
The first line needs to produce
The top line didn’t cut it in Game 1. They were all out of position going for the puck on the only goal of the game, and got little going offensively before or after Nick Schmaltz got moved around the lineup. Jonathan Toews finished without a shot on goal, which is just the second time that’s happened since mid-January.
The Blackhawks need more from the first line, and Toews in particular. He didn’t get a ton of help with Schmaltz having playoff jitters in his debut and Richard Panik failing to make a major impact. Also, his possession numbers were good, so he’s still driving the puck into the Predators’ zone. They just need to start doing something with that and make Nashville pay.
It looks like Ryan Hartman or John Hayden might get minutes at 1LW instead of Schmaltz, so that’ll be one lineup development to watch for.
Projected lines for Game 4
|Goaltender||Corey Crawford||Pekka Rinne|
How to watch Game 2
Time: 7 p.m. CT
TV: NBC (Announcers: Kenny Albert and Pierre McGuire)
Live Stream: NBC Sports