CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 09: Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks moves around the net as Nathan Lawson #52 of the New York Islanders keeps watch at the United Center on January 9, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Islanders 5-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
They say familiarity breeds contempt. Most of my ex-girlfriends would probably agree. Anyway, as if the Hawks and Preds hadn't seen enough of each other, having played 15 times in the past 15 months, they get the unique pleasure of having a home and home this weekend, starting tonight in Nashville before everyone decamps to Chicago for the sequel tomorrow night. Expect the second game to get pretty chippy.
It's so relieving to not have any injury worries heading into this game for the nth one in a row. We know what lineup we're going to see, we know what the lines will be. This is a rare pleasure for Hawks fans these days.
One thing to keep an eye on tonight is we'll find out a lot about Nick Leddy. It's one thing to play against the overturned clown cars that are the Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders, followed by the Avalanche who can provide problems but also leave a lot of space. No team works as hard or is as disciplined in their system than the Predators. They will harrass Leddy in his own zone, while not leaving him a whole lot of escape routes behind it. He'll have to use every bit of his wheels and smarts tonight. If he passes this test, I'll feel a whole lot better about him being up here the rest of the year than I did.
The Hawks are facing probably the hottest goalie in the league right now in Pekka Rinne. He's won five of his last six starts, and in all those wins he gave up exactly one goal in each. If the Hawks do not crash the net tonight and make life difficult, they can forget it. They're not going to beat Rinne by trying to pick corners from the outside.
These games are never fun. The Preds don't leave any open spaces for the Hawks to get through. The Hawks struggle so much to get out of their zone against the Preds, who lock down at the points and don't allow you to clear by firing it around the boards. Watch how the Preds d-men are always stepping in front of the Hawks forwards in the Hawks' zone as the defensemen try and clear. Once out, they still skate hard in the neutral zone to close down time. It makes the Hawks resort to just getting the puck in and going to get it. Riveting it is not. But now that we're past the halfway point, style is about as important as hair color right now, just the points are all that matter. If you match the Preds effort, which isn't easy, the Hawks generally win.