CHICAGO - APRIL 18: Fans of the Chicago Blackhawks cheer during the National Anthem before Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Nashville Predators at the United Center on April 18, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Predators 2-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Every time the Predators pop up on the schedule, Hawks fans probably let out a groan. The names may change, but they're still generally unrecognizable to the un-hockey illiterate (sadly, I am so I know who these guys are, and that doesn't make it any better). The games are pure trench warfare, with little goalmouth action, and a lot of mucking, grinding, more mucking, and more words that Canadians use to mean hard, tough work.
It will be no different tonight. The Preds come into this have just had a five-game win streak snapped on Thursday in Florida. In those five games, the Preds gave up five goals. They were evenly distributed amongst the five though, in case you thought they were playing favorites.
Pekka Rinne is straight up, picture-me-rollin' right now. Since returning from injury at the end of last month, in nine starts he has a SV% of .940 and a goals-against average of 1.66. Yeah, not good. Rinne is enormous, 6' 5" and 207, so the Hawks must get traffic right in front of him to beat him. If he's getting clean looks at the puck, well, with that much of him there just isn't a whole lot to shoot at.
Another factor in the Preds success is a penalty kill that's nails. Seriously, this thing has a touch of evil about it. They've killed 25 of the last 26 penalties they've taken. Part of it is the duo of destruction that is Ryan Suter and Shea Weber -- perhaps the league's best defensive pairing. Part of it is Rinne's play. And part of it is just having a glut of forwards who skate hard and are never out of position.
And that's really the secret to the Preds. Whatever Barry Trotz tells them, feeds them, or injects into them, these guys come to play every night. They chase you down in your zone and make you make mistakes, which they then capitalize on. They don't make many of their own, they're the least penalized team in the league.
But they are hurt at center. Cal O'Reilly broke his leg, and he joins long term casualty Matthew Lombardi on the sidelines. The Hawks depth at center should be something they can take advantage of tonight. As long as the Hawks are smart with the puck and work hard, they'll be right there.