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Blackhawks continue a Central Division rivalry as they head to Nashville

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In an unusual year, this is the first usual division opponent the Blackhawks will see.

Nashville Predators v Chicago Blackhawks
Dominik Kubalik of the Chicago Blackhawks controls the puck under pressure from Ryan Ellis of the Nashville Predators at the United Center
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Two games at home did wonders for the Blackhawks. After allowing five goals in each of their first four games, the Blackhawks didn’t allowed just three in two games against the Red Wings.

The Blackhawks’ next test will come from against a long-time divisional rival: the Predators.

Nashville is the first opponent the Blackhawks will face that was a divisional opponent before this season’s realignment. The two teams have a short but storied history, including Nashville’s four-game sweep in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs after the Blackhawks ousted the Predators from the postseason in 2010 and 2015. There was no postseason matchup in the 2020 bubble, though, because the Predators lost to the Coyotes in the qualifying round. Nashville did have a better regular season, with 78 points surpassing Chicago’s 72. Although the Predators never delivered on the large offseason move they seemed poised to make, they did add perennial Chicago nemesis Erik Haula and re-signed Mikael Granlund.

Nashville continues to be led by the winger combination of Viktor Arvidsson (five points in five games) and Filip Forsberg (team-high four goals). Neither of the Predators’ key centers have had a great season so far, with Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene collecting just two assists each through five games. Roman Josi, the 2020 Norris Trophy winner, has just one point.

In net, the Predators are struggling. Pekka Rinne, who’s now 38, has a .839 save percentage after two games while 25-year-old Juuse Saros has just a .905 save percentage: a major contributor to Nashville’s 2-3-0 start. The Predators have allowed 3.4 goals per game, eighth most in the league (Chicago is fourth at 3.83). Nashville’s special teams have been especially awful, too. The Predators are 2-for-20 (10 percent) on the power play and 11-for-20 (55 percent) on the penalty kill. The Blackhawks red-hot power play could be a major key in these two games.

Two weekend wins over Detroit had the Blackhawks in a much better situation than they were before Friday, until news broke late Monday that Adam Boqvist and Alex DeBrincat were added to the COVID list. They’re both unavailable for practices, games and travel until cleared. The absences of those two players could open spots in the lineup for some younger players, especially on the blue line, where Nicolas Beaudin, Lucas Carlsson and Wyatt Kalynuk are all waiting to make their 2021 season debuts.

Another win (or even two) against Nashville would only improve Chicago’s situation after a pair of wins over Detroit. This a team Chicago can beat. The question now is whether they will.

Tale of the tape (statistics from last season)

Blackhawks — Statistic — Predators

48.45% (22nd) — Corsi For — 50.95% (10th)

46.93% (27th) — Expected goals for — 50.92% (14th)

2.97 (18th) — Goals per game — 3.07 (16th)

3.06 (16th) — Goals against per game — 3.10 (20th)

49.9% (17th) — Faceoffs — 52.3% (4th)

15.2% (28th) — Power play — 17.3% (25th)

82.1% (9th) — Penalty kill — 76.1% (29th)

Projected lineups

Blackhawks

(TBD with DeBrincat out) — Suter — Kane

Kubalik — Strome — Kurashev

Janmark — Wallmark — Shaw

Hagel — Kampf — Carpenter

Keith — (TBD with Boqvist out)

Zadorov — Murphy

de Haan — Mitchell

Lankinen

Subban

Predators

Forsberg — Johansen — Arvidsson

Granlund — Duchene — Kunin

Cousins — Haula — Sissons

Trenin — Richardson — Grimaldi

Josi — Ellis

Ekholm — Fabbro

Borowiecki — Sbisa

Saros

Rinne

How to watch

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville

TV: NBC Sports Chicago

Live stream: NBC Sports app, NHL.TV