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Desperate Blackhawks host Predators

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Chicago hopes to break a three-game home losing streak.

Nashville Predators v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

The Blackhawks host the Predators in a Central Division showdown on Friday at United Center. It’s the final game of a short two-game homestand for the Blackhawks before they embark on a four game road trip to close out February.

Chicago (26-26-8) is in midst of a disastrous 1-5-2 stretch that has plummeted their playoff chances to nine-percent, per Dom Luszczyszyn’s model from The Athletic. One of the many reasons for the Blackhawks’ current predicament is their inability to take advantage of their home ice. They are in the bottom three of the league with a 12-13-4 record at United Center and there’s a notable difference between the effort and style of play on the road versus at home.

It may be cliche, but Chicago’s more ‘simplistic’ North-South style of play on the road that focuses on swarming the puck on the forecheck, quick, speedy transitions through the neutral zone, attacking the slot with numbers and getting shots on net through screens has led to some success with a 14-13-4 road record. In contrast, the home style of play seems to be plagued by more of an East-West mentality and players looking to dish the puck off to Patrick Kane any chance they get or hoping to make a highlight-reel play rather than executing the simpler play of throwing the puck on net when there is a shooting lane, cycling the puck to wear down the opponent’s defensemen and working as a five man unit in all three zones.

Whether that is a coaching issue, lack of preparation from the players or a combination of a handful of things remains to be determined, but the Blackhawks’ dismal home record has been a thorn in their side all season and has significantly cost them in the standings.

Defenseman Erik Gustafsson was held out of morning skate and warm-ups with trade speculations swirling around the pending unrestricted free agent. Nick Seeler draws back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch against the Rangers.

Corey Crawford will start for Chicago after Robin Lehner didn’t get much help from the defense and gave up six goals to the Rangers on Wednesday. Crawford has lost four straight starts, but has only given up 11 goals on 125 shots (.912 save-percentage).

On the other hand, the Predators have vaulted themselves back into the mix for the wild card in the Western Conference with a 7-4-0 record in their last 11 games. They are only four points behind the Jets for the No. 1 wild card spot with three games in hand.

Nashville (29-23-7) is led by Norris Trophy candidate Roman Josi, who paces the team with 57 points and is a stellar two-way defenseman that can single-handedly take over the game when he is on the ice. Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene lead the forwards group with 40 and 38 points, respectively. Nick Bonino and Craig Smith have added solid depth scoring with 17 goals each, which is tied for second on the team behind Forsberg’s 18 goals.

Top pairing defenseman Ryan Ellis has been activated from Injured Reserve and will return to the lineup on Friday. Ellis has been recovering from a concussion since the Winter Classic.

In past seasons, the Predators got elite goaltending from Pekka Rinne, but that’s not the case this season. Rinne and Juuse Saros have combined for a 0.895 save-percentage this season, which ranks 28th in the league. Lehner and Crawford have combined for a .910 save-percentage, which ranks 9th.

Rinne is expected to start after Saros gave up four goals on 30 shots in a 4-1 loss to the Hurricanes on Tuesday. Rinne is 18-13-3 this season with a career low .898 save-percentage and a minus-10.2 goals saved above average.

Tale of the Tape

Blackhawks — Statistic — Predators

48.6% (21st) — Corsi For — 52.0% (7th)

47.2% (28th) — Expected goals for — 50.8% (14th)

2.90 (t-19th) — Goals per game — 3.20 (t-9th)

2.97 (21st) — Goals against per game — 3.02 (t-24th)

13.8% (31st) — Power play — 16.4% (23rd)

81.6% (12th) — Penalty kill — 74.1% (31st)

Projected lineups

Blackhawks

Kubalik — Toews — Caggiula

Saad — Carpenter — Kane

DeBrincat — Dach — Strome

Highmore — Kampf — Nylander

Keith — Koekkoek

Seeler - Murphy

Maatta — Boqvist

Crawford

Lehner

Predators

Forsberg — Johansen — Arvidsson

Jarnkrok — Duchene — Granlund

Grimaldi — Turris — Smith

Blackwell — Sissons — Watson

Josi — Ellis

Tinordi — Ekholm

Hamhuis — Fabbro

Rinne

Saros

How to watch

When: 7:30 p.m.

Where: United Center, Chicago

TV: NBC Sports Chicago

Live stream: NBC Sports app, NHL.tv