The Chicago Blackhawks hope to close out their series against the Nashville Predators on Saturday night as the two teams battle in Game 6 at the United Center.
With the Blackhawks eager to get the series over with to avoid a Game 7 confrontation in Nashville, there are a slew of players that need to step up in order to make that happen. For the sake of brevity, we’re going to focus on the most important three of the bunch.
The Blackhawks’ penalty killing unit has been a strength of theirs in the years that they’ve won Stanley Cups under Joel Quenneville, but this season the group is proving to be more of a liability than an asset as the playoffs have gotten underway.
In five games so far this postseason, the Blackhawks have allowed five power play goals, and only in Game 3 were they able to keep Nashville’s power play unit from scoring. A big part of the reason for that has been the ineffective play of the Hawks’ forwards in that department, and Marcus Kruger is the leading forward among those players.
If the Blackhawks are going to get back on the right track when they’re short a man, Kruger will have to provide the blueprint for the rest of the guys. Aggressive forechecking, quick stick work and, above all else, the intelligence to know when to attack and when to fall back into position are all going to be key components, and Kruger is adept at all of those things.
After starting off the series with goals in each of the first two games, Sharp’s offensive production has slid significantly. In the three games since, the forward has one assist and just eight shots on goal, and he once again will find himself on the third line when the Blackhawks take the ice on Saturday night.
A big part of the reason for Sharp’s lack of scoring (other than not getting to play top-six minutes) has been the fact that the power play unit has been so bad in this series. After scoring twice in their Game 1 comeback, the Blackhawks’ power play unit has failed on its last 13 man-advantage attempts, and their lack of puck movement has allowed the Predators to become a really aggressive group when they’re killing penalties.
That’s where Sharp is going to come into play. The forward has to be able to not only play the point position (which he does from time to time on the power play, but he also has to be able and willing to drive down into the zone and get chances near the net. That’s where he is at his best, and it will force Nashville’s defense out of their comfort zone to have to try to defend those types of plays.
The Blackhawks’ captain got off to a rollicking start in the first three games of the series, scoring twice and dishing out three assists, but since then he’s been largely held in check by the Predators. Over the past two games, Toews only managed five shots on goal and didn’t register a point for the team.
If the Blackhawks are going to come out on UC ice and beat the Predators Saturday, Toews and the top line have to take advantage of their matchups that they’ll be able to dictate. Going up against lesser competition is always a plus for the home side as they deploy their top lines, and Toews will have to get Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad to pitch in offensively in order to get the Hawks a win.