Predators-Blackhawks Preview

Just when the Chicago Blackhawks appeared to be slipping, they

bounced back with a lopsided road victory against a division

rival.

After being shut out yet again, the Nashville Predators can’t

afford many more empty offensive performances with their playoff

hopes in jeopardy.

The Blackhawks will try to avoid a fourth loss in their last

five home games Monday against Nashville, which is looking to end a

five-game road skid as these teams play the first of three meetings

in eight days.

Chicago (26-5-3) dropped three of four overall before a 7-1 win

at Detroit on Sunday. The Blackhawks pounced on the Red Wings

immediately, getting three goals on their first three shots.

Nine players registered points for the Blackhawks.

“I liked the pace of our game,” coach Joel Quenneville said.

“That’s something the last three or four games I thought we were

off. … We got continuity in the lines and consistency from start

to finish. And the contribution offensively from everybody.

“But it certainly helps when you get a quick strike like that

right off the bat.”

The Predators (14-14-7) sit in a three-way tie for 10th with the

Stars and Oilers in the West, two points back of the Blue Jackets

for the conference’s final playoff spot. They’ll hope for another

strong April – they’re 8-2-1 in the season’s final month over the

past three years – as they seek a fourth straight playoff

appearance.

After three straight home wins, Nashville’s defense fell apart

when it allowed six first-period goals in Thursday’s 7-4 loss to

Phoenix. The Predators’ offense was the issue Saturday, when they

were blanked for a league high-tying sixth time in a 1-0 overtime

loss at Colorado.

Nashville’s 25.5 shots per game rank last in the league, though

Saturday’s lack of production wasn’t due to a shortage of

opportunities. The Predators outshot the Avalanche 34-24, including

a 27-12 edge over the first two periods.

They were also scoreless on six power-play opportunities and are

0 for 12 over the last three games. Nashville is 4-11-4 when it

fails to score a goal with the man advantage.

“We had chances, and they were good chances,” said defenseman

Shea Weber, who with 20 points is one behind Martin Erat for the

team lead. “We’ve got to score goals if we want to win.”

The Blackhawks were again without Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa

on Sunday as both continue to recover from upper-body injuries.

Hossa has missed five straight games while Sharp has been sidelined

for 10 in a row, but Quenneville hasn’t ruled either out against

the Predators after both participated in their first full practice

Saturday.

The continued emergence of rookie left winger Brandon Saad has

helped alleviate those absences. Sixteen of Saad’s 19 points have

come over his last 15 games, including two goals and an assist

against the Red Wings.

“We like the way he plays,” Quenneville said. “I know that in

the first part of the season, before his play started to be

reflected in his production, I thought his play was rock solid. He

looks like he belongs here.”

Center Mike Fisher is questionable for Nashville after missing

Saturday’s game with an upper-body injury. Fisher tallied a point

in eight straight games before being forced to sit out.

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews each scored as Chicago won the

first meeting 3-0 in Nashville on Feb. 10.