The Chicago Blackhawks were not happy after their last meet-up with the Nashville Predators in the 2016-17 season. The last game ended in handshakes, with the Blackhawks closing their season and the Predators moving on to round two of the NHL playoffs. After some work of figuring out Chicago’s strategy and a lot of time of keeping them off the scoreboard, Nashville had swept the Hawks and reigned triumphant over them that year.
Though the past is in the past and nothing can change it, the Blackhawks knew that Saturday night’s game was a big deal. Nashville had gained confidence after beating the Blackhawks in the playoffs, from their head coach all the way down to their last line. They knew what made Chicago tick, where to hit them the hardest, and where to take the best shots and they did just that to start the game.
The Blackhawks trailed the Predators for the majority of the game and Nashville played with confidence, having shut out Chicago consecutive times in their last two meetings. Thanks to a goal scored by Filip Forsberg in the second period, the Predators carried a slim lead until there was less than half of the third period left in the game. Though it was only one goal that they led by, the Predators fed off of the confidence of their team, while draining the Blackhawks of some of their own confidence. Keeping the Hawks off of the scoreboard opened up frustrations, just as it had in playoffs. However, the Hawks finally hit some right opportunities and Patrick Sharp tied up the game with only a few minutes remaining and sent it into overtime.
It was Brandon Saad that ended things in overtime with a goal that was quickly deflected by Pekka Rinne. Patrick Kane got the assist after a beautiful pass across the ice. It was the sixth goal of the season for Saad, who has been phenomenal since he returned to Chicago. As a result of the win, the Blackhawks picked up two points and are now 4-1-1 to start the season.
The game against the Predators pointed out a lot of flaws that the Blackhawks need to work on and one of them is waiting till the last minute to score. Nashville does a strong job of keeping Chicago to a limited area and that was what they did for much of the time. Chicago could have taken care of this issue by using their power play more effectively and taking advantage of the extra man. The Hawks did not capitalize on a single one of the six chances they had throughout the game, even with the slight bit of extra space that the extra attacker allowed them. Against a team like Nashville, those power plays become very important to use and Chicago unfortunately wasted them all.
Playing against the Preds also showed how heavily Chicago can start to rely on their top players. It doesn’t hurt that Saad has been on a phenomenal streak lately, but the Blackhawks can’t rely on him to always save the day. It didn’t help them in the past when they relied on the Kane, Artem Anisimov, and Artemi Panarin line to do a lot of the winning work and it won’t be a different case this time. Smaller players need to step up, especially in the beginning of the game, and help get the Hawks on the board, while keeping the opponent out of the Hawks’ zone.
The Hawks should also be very grateful for their strong goaltending. Corey Crawford has been churning out some Vezina Trophy quality work and really helped keep the Predators at bay. Without him in net, the Predators could have led by three or four goals instead of just one. Relying on just the goaltender is another area that the Hawks need to tread gently on. Crawford can back his team with a strong position in the net, but at the end of the day, he needs some offense in front of him. They eventually got fired up in the end, but some production earlier in the game could have been highly beneficial.
It’s important to recognize that Nashville was also without some of their best players. Roman Josi and Yannick Weber both did not appear in the match-up on Saturday night due to injury. Nick Bonino left the game towards the end of the second period and did not return to the game. The Hawks also had an injury that hurt their roster, with Nick Schmalz out for yet another game. However, with three more regular season meetings against the Preds and another potential playoff match-up, the Blackhawks really need to concentrate on amping up the energy and using their assets where they are most productive.
Even though the Blackhawks walked away with the overtime win on Saturday night, the game was still telling of some of their biggest flaws and areas that they need to work on. The power play and level of production can all use work in order to bring the Hawks to the next level. They will meet the Nashville Predators again this season, so the team will want to step things up quickly and make the changes. After all, they don’t want another repeat of what happened in last season’s ending.