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Together We’ll Ring in the New Year: Blackhawks-Predators Preview

It’s the first game of 2022 and the first Blackhawks’ game in two weeks.

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

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:

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.

This is our year for sure.

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)

Blackhawks

DeBrincat — Borgstrom — Kane

Hagel — Toews — Strome

Kubalik — Dach — Kurashev

Carpenter — Entwistle — Khaira

de Haan — Jones

Stillman — Murphy

McCabe — Gustafsson

Delia

Soderblom

Predators

Forsberg — Granlund — Duchene

Tolvanen — Johansen — Kunin

Trenin — Cousins — Jeannot

Luff — McCarron — Tomasino

Ekholm — Carrier

Harpur — Fabbro

Borowiecki — Benning

Saros/Rittich

How to watch

When: 1 p.m. CT

Where: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville

TV: NBC Sports Chicago

Webstream: ESPN+