A 14-day layoff between hockey games comes to its end on Saturday afternoon when the Chicago Blackhawks head to Tennessee to face the Nashville Predators.
Chicago hasn’t played since a 4-3 loss to the Dallas Stars on Dec. 18 as a flurry of postponements triggered by the pandemic extended the team’s holiday break well beyond the original plan of just four days off.
Nashville had 12 days off but got back on the ice for a pair of games this week and lost both: a 5-3 defeat to the Washington Capitals on Wednesday and then a 4-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday. Prior to those losses, Nashville had been one of the hottest teams in the league, ripping off seven straight wins between Dec. 4 and 17 — including a 3-2 overtime win over the Blackhawks at the end of that streak.
The most impressive part of that streak was that it often came with a patchwork Predators lineup while the team was dealing with its own COVID outbreak — a common NHL theme in December. Nashville isn’t back to 100 percent, either, with captain Roman Josi and forward Colton Sissons among the players who entered the protocol on Monday. Considering how Chicago fared against Nashville last season (winning just one of eight games), though, there’s no reason to believe any missing Predators will make this one easier on the Blackhawks.
And it’s not like things are perfect for the Blackhawks, either. Not only does the team have to shake off the rust of a two-week layoff while its opponent has already done so with a pair of games this week, Chicago also has its first significant COVID issues of the season. Starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury went into COVID protocol on Monday and was joined by backup Kevin Lankinen on Thursday. That means Collin Delia is the likely starter on Saturday while his backup will be 22-year-old Arvid Soderblom, who’s shown some promise in the AHL this season but has never played in the NHL before.
Regardless of who’s in net, it’ll be on the skaters in front to earn these two available points for Chicago. Here’s what the forwards looked like at Thursday’s practice:
Blackhawks lines remain the same in practice:— Scott Powers (@ByScottPowers) December 30, 2021
In the last game between these two teams, Nashville won because it prevented Chicago from mustering just about any sort of offense during 5-on-5 play while dominating on special teams: Nashville had a pair of power-play goals while Chicago went 0-for-5 with the man advantage. The special teams have been a Blackhawks issue for the last month, but improved 5-on-5 play would also go a long way towards securing this much-needed victory.
It’s the first game of 2022. No better time to forget the disappointments of the past and get things moving in a better direction.
Let’s go Hawks
Blackhawks — Statistic — Predators
46.60% (27th) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 51.05% (13th)
45.40% (30th) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 52.41% (10th)
2.30 (29th) — Goals per game — 2.94 (16th)
3.24 (22nd) — Goals against per game — 2.72 (11th)
49.2% (20th) — Faceoffs — 50.4% (14th)
18.8% (18th) — Power play — 24.7% (6th)
76.7% (25th) — Penalty kill — 81.1% (13th)
Projected lineups (subject to change)
DeBrincat — Borgstrom — Kane
Hagel — Toews — Strome
Kubalik — Dach — Kurashev
Carpenter — Entwistle — Khaira
de Haan — Jones
Stillman — Murphy
McCabe — Gustafsson
Forsberg — Granlund — Duchene
Tolvanen — Johansen — Kunin
Trenin — Cousins — Jeannot
Luff — McCarron — Tomasino
Ekholm — Carrier
Harpur — Fabbro
Borowiecki — Benning
How to watch
When: 1 p.m. CT
Where: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville
TV: NBC Sports Chicago