It can be argued that the Chicago Blackhawks are the best team in the NHL. In a Saturday matinee at the Bridgestone Arena, a depleted Predators team battled the Blackhawks for 60 minutes before falling 1-0.
Pekka Rinne was outstanding in net, turning away 29 of 30 shots. He gave up a goal at 5:31 of the first period off a 2 on 1 breakaway. Michael Handzus skated the puck into the Predators zone and found Bryan Bickell after Predators defenseman Jonathan Blum overplayed Handzus. Bickell had a wide open net into which to shoot the puck after the gaffe by Blum.
The Predators managed 20 shots on Blackhawks netminder Ray Emery, and although they did generate some traffic in front, could not get enough pressure to get a puck into the net.
Injury Bug Bites Again
Paul Gaustad was scratched and his presence was missed in the face off circle. The Predators managed to win just 20 of 49 face offs. Gabriel Bourque missed his 4th consecutive game.
The Predators power play had some chances, notably when Dan Carcillo was called for a 4 minute doble minor for high sticking. During the extended power play, the Predators did not get off a shot. Failing to capitalize on the man advantage made the hill even steeper for the Predators. The Predators have to get a better effort out of the power play unit to have an opportunity to win these types of games.
Bobby Butler was back in the line up due to the absence of Paul Gaustad. Taylor Beck saw some top line minutes. And frequent flyer Chris Mueller was frequently in the face off circle against Jonathan Toews. The Predators had to mix and match their lines due to injuries and the recent trade of Marty Erat, and several young players had to play some big minutes. Generally, they acquitted themselves well.
Missing In Action
Craig Smith, Sergei Kostitsyn, Rich Clune, Taylor Beck, and Matt Halischuk did not record a shot on net. When you look at the minutes they logged, you can see why the Predators offense struggled. Other key players struggled as well to create offense. All season, this team has struggled to generate offense, and it will cost them a shot at the playoffs. This is an area that has to be addressed in the off season. The Predators have been shut out for an NHL leading 7th time, an ignominious "honor".
The Predators appear to heading toward an early off season. What is important is to see the Predators continue to battle and compete. They did that tonight, and even though the talent gap was huge, the team did not back down. These final games will be a test of character and a measure of heart.
Battle like you did tonight and I can live with the results.
My three stars:
1. Ray Emery
2. Bryan Bickell
3. Pekka Rinne