Preds look to continue surge in Central against Hawks
PREDATORS (15-10-2) at BLACKHAWKS (17-6-3)
Last 10 --
Nashville 7-2-1; Chicago 8-1-1.
Season series --
Chicago leads the season series 2-1, but Nashville took the last meeting, 2-0, on Oct. 29 at the Sommet Center.
Big story --
With both teams coming off impressive runs in November, the Preds will look to pull within three points of the Central Division lead as they swing through the Windy City.
After a rough start to the season, which included a six-game losing streak, Nashville's turnaround has been nothing short of stunning. Since their mid-October skid, the Preds are 13-5-1 and have thrust themselves into the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. Nashville can thank Pekka Rinne's
stellar play for bolstering them on the back end -- the Finn made his case to represent his home nation in Vancouver in February by winning 11 of 12 starts from late October to late November.
Rinne hasn't been the only contributor, however, as Steve Sullivan
has done his part with 11 points in his last 10 games, while J.P. Dumont
has paced the offense with 19 points this season. The Preds are on the verge of slipping after dropping three of their last four games, including a back-and-forth overtime contest to Minnesota on Wednesday, but Nashville can make a major statement Friday in the always intimidating United Center.
The Hawks come into this game rolling, having taken at least a point in 11 of their last 12 games, including a wild 4-3 win over Columbus Tuesday that was capped by Brent Seabrook's
winner in the 11th round of the shootout. Chicago has been led by the usual suspects as Jonathan Toews
and Patrick Kane
have combined for 17 points over the last eight games, and Marian Hossa
has four in his first four games with the club.
Despite its strong play on the ice, the best news for Chicago may have come off it. This will be the first game for the Hawks since Kane, Toews and defenseman Duncan Keith
were all signed to long-term extensions Thursday. While salary cap concerns abound for the Hawks after locking up their young core, the hard decisions won't have to be made until June as the Hawks' talent-laden roster looks to make some midseason hay with the future of its stars intact.
Who's hot --
Captain Jason Arnott
has remained a steady offensive force for Nashville, tallying 10 points in his last eight games, while Chicago's Cristobal Huet
has been among the League's best between the pipes recently, going 8-1-1 with a 1.95 goals-against average in his last 10 starts.
Injury report --
Nashville's Dave Scatchard
is questionable for Friday with an upper-body injury, while Chicago is still making do without Dave Bolland
, who is on injured reserve for 2-3 more months after back surgery.
Stat pack --
The most unsung man in hockey might be Nashville head coach Barry Trotz. Trotz is the only coach to ever be behind the bench in Nashville, putting together a 379-352-56 record with 60 ties. While the Preds struggled in their early years, as most expansion teams do, they haven't had a losing record since the 2003-04 season, when they made their first of four consecutive playoff appearances. Remarkably, Trotz has never won the Jack Adams award for the League's best coach, but if the Predators make the postseason for the fifth time in six seasons after their start this year, it might be time for the voters to take notice.
Puck drop --
These are two teams that know each other well, but the last time they met, Nashville stood at a lowly 4-7-1. With the jolt of confidence provided by their November streak, the Preds have more than a puncher's chance to shock the Hawks and put a dent in Chicago's Central Division lead.