Monday, December 29, 2014

Predators Give Away a Point, Fall in SO to the Blackhawks

The Nashville Predators traveled to Chicago to face the Blackhawks in their last regular season meeting. The game would also determine first place in the Central Division where the Blackhawks currently lead the Predators by two points. The Predators are 1-1-1 against the Hawks in their previous matchups.

Pekka Rinne was in net for the Predators while the Hawks had Corey Crawford between the pipes.

The Predators jumped on the Hawks in the first period, outshooting them 18-12 and carrying the play for much of the period.

Roman Josi staked the Predators to a 1-0 lead at 11:50 with a blast from the face off circle just after the Predators had killed of a Blackhawks penalty.

Colin Wilson battled in front of the net and got a shot from close in that Crawford could not control. Craig Smith followed Wilson's shot a put a wrister inside the post to make it 2-0 at 17:12.

James Neal made it 3-0 off a pass from Wilson that bounced off his leg and past Crawford at 7:28 of the second period. Neal drove to the net and created traffic in front of Crawford and put himself in perfect position to deflect the shot from Wilson.

The Hawks cut the lead to 3-1 as Brad Richards scored just after the Predators had killed off a penalty at 10:33.

The Blackhawks pulled to within 1 at 15:38 as the puck was slid in under Rinne by Andrew Shaw in a scramble around the goal crease.

The Predators saw their lead evaporate as Marian Hossa tied the game on the power play at 17:43. Hossa wired a shot over the shoulder of Rinne into the top corner.

Just as the Predators had jumped on the Hawks in the first period, the Hawks responded with the significant push back of their own. The Predators were dominated after their third goal, registering just one shot on goal in 11 minutes of the second period.

James Neal scored on the power play with just under a minute to play in the second period as Filip Forsberg took a shot that was kicked out by Crawford and on to the stick of Neal, who buried the puck into the open net at 19:04 of the second.

A good response by the Predators, but one that should not have been necessary.

Chicago tied the game with 1:13 left in the game as a shot through traffic could not be controlled by Rinne and Brian Bickell slammed home the rebound.

In the overtime, both teams had some chances and Rinne in particular had to come up with some big saves. Neither team could find the back of the net and the game would be decided in a shootout.

In the shootout, Jonathan Toews tallied the only goal and the Blackhawks won the game 5-4.

Some observations:

  • Colin Wilson continues his strong play. I have spoken about his speed and puck handling, but the Predators second goal was a result of Wilson going to the hard area in front of the net and battling to get the shot off. Wilson has shown that he is not afraid to battle in front of the net, and that is a dimension that the Predators need.
  •  Roman Josi is just smooth. He is a solid defender that has great speed, deft puck handling skills, and a deceptively good shot. When he carries the puck and joins the rush, it's like having another highly skilled forward on the ice.
  • James Neal elevates his game against elite competition. He has 5 goals in 4 games against the Blackhawks this season. I really like the chemistry that is developing between Neal and Wilson.
  • Up 3-0 and seemingly in control of this game, the Predators got back on their heels and let the Blackhawks take the play to them for the bulk of the second period. This type of play- going into a shell and letting the opponent dictate the play- is not the way you can play against an elite team like the Hawks. When the Predators are attacking and playing their game, they are the equal of any team in the League. When they sit back as they did for a majority of the second, they can get blown out of the barn.
  • The Hawks have a very potent power play. The Predators did a good job on the penalty kill tonight, killing 4 of 5 Hawks power plays in regulation.
  • Rinne gave up some goals with a lot of traffic in front of him. I can't fault him for those goals as the Hawks had a lot of traffic and a lot of whacks at the puck from in close. The defense has to do a better job of clearing the front of the net and helping him out. That said, Hossa did beat Rinne cleanly with a blast on the power play.
The Predators gave away a point tonight. this was a game that they should have locked down and put away but didn't.

Learn from it.

My three stars:

1. James Neal

2. Colin Wilson

3. Jonathan Toews