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Making Christmas: Blackhawks-Predators Preview

A Central Division foe is in town for some Friday night hockey.

Nashville Predators v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Chicago Blackhawks host the Nashville Predators at the United Center on Friday night for the second game this season between the Central Division foes.

The last meeting came on Nov. 7 and was the first game of the Derek King era, with Chicago winning 2-1 thanks to an overtime GWG from Alex DeBrincat. Nashville scuffled a bit after that defeat but has been red-hot in December, winning its last six, including a 5-2 home win over the Avalanche on Thursday night. The Predators have been scoring in bunches, averaging 3.67 goals in this recent spurt of victories. And all this comes despite Nashville having a slew of players tossed into COVID-19 protocol within the last week, including its No. 2 and No. 4 point-producers: Mikael Granlund (5 G, 22 A) and Ryan Johansen (8 G, 16 A), respectively.

While Nashville’s roster currently has several AHLers on it because of those COVID issues, a few familiar names remain the driving forces of the Predators’ surge. Roman Josi (10 G, 18 A) is the team’s leading scorer and has three goals with four assists in the last six games. Filip Forsberg has six points in six games, as does Tanner Jeannot. Alex Carrier appears to be finding his footing at the NHL level and emerging as a reliable top-four defenseman. In net, Juuse Saros has wins in four straight starts, although he could receive a night off of after backstopping Nashville’s victory on Thursday night. The rest of the Predators’ lineup will likely be full of players who elicit a response of, “Who’s that?” But Nashville keeps on winning, in spite of all of that.

As for the Blackhawks, a few small lineup moves were reported after the morning skate. Brett Connolly rotates out to make a lineup spot for Kurtis Gabriel, whom the Blackhawks recently acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs. It would be an NHL season debut for Gabriel, who only saw time with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies while north of the border. If that also means he’s going to be on the alleged second line with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Hagel despite scoring all of two goals in his 49-game NHL career ... well, let’s just wait on that part, shall we?

On the blue line, Calvin de Haan is out with a non-COVID illness:

In his place, Erik Gustafsson will return to the lineup although it’s unclear exactly what the D pairings will look like on Friday night.

Nashville played last night and has a ton of AHL players in the lineup due to the aforementioned COVID outbreak. Yes, the Predators have won six in a row, but this is still a divisional foe coming to Chicago on short rest with a depleted roster. If the Blackhawks are going to make any sort of push for a playoff spot come April, they need to start right now by taking two points from the Predators and probably can’t afford to surrender a point by waiting until overtime to secure the win. The road back is still a lengthy one, but the miles at the end cannot be reached without making progress in the present.

Blackhawks — Statistic — Predators

46.61% (26th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 50.74% (12th)

45.20% (31st) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 52.32% (9th)

2.29 (29th) — Goals per game — 2.93 (16th)

3.21 (23rd) — Goals against per game — 2.66 (11th)

49.2% (20th) — Faceoffs — 50.4% (14th)

19.3% (15th) — Power play — 24.7% (7th)

79.2% (21st) — Penalty kill — 78.3% (24th)

Projected lineups (subject to change)

Blackhawks

DeBrincat — Strome — Kane

Hagel — Toews — Gabriel(?)

Kubalik — Dach — Kurashev

Entwistle — Carpenter — Slavin

McCabe(?) — S. Jones

C. Jones — Murphy

Stillman(?) — Gustafsson(?)

Fleury

Lankinen

Predators

Forsberg — Sissons — Jeannot

Tolvanen — Novak — Kunin

Trenin — Glass — Olivier

Myers — Smith — Grimaldi

Josi — Fabbro

Ekholm — Carrier

Borowiecki — Benning

Saros/Rittich

How to watch

When: 7:30 p.m. CT

Where: United Center, Chicago

TV: NBC Sports Chicago

Webstream: ESPN+