On Friday night the Nashville Predators invade the United Center for the first of three December games between these two Central Division rivals. With the streaking Predators sitting in second place, tonight’s two points are crucial for the Blackhawks.
In October, the Hawks split two games in Nashville and defeated the Preds in Chicago, outscoring Nashville only 5-3 in the three games. However, Nashville has been red-hot since then, going 9-4-0 in November. Their 15-10-2 record, after an overtime loss in Minnesota and regulation loss to Calgary on Monday, have the Preds five points behind the Blackhawks and just one above Columbus, who are in third.
After a month of solid work in the net, Pekka Rinne has struggled this week. In the Preds’ two losses, Rinne has allowed 10 goals on 57 shots (82.4 save percentage). Rinne did shut out the Hawks on Oct. 29, however, in a game that started the hot streak that carried Nashville through November. Steve Sullivan comes in with 11 points in his last 10 games, as the Preds offense has been solid for four weeks.
UPDATE: Dan Ellis will start in goal for Nashville Friday to give Rinne, who has struggled in his last two games, a break.
The Blackhawks were also great in November, going 8-2-2 in the month including a 4-1-1 Circus Trip. The Hawks lost the last two games of the trip, the finale in a shootout to Los Angeles, but got back on the winning track in the 11-round marathon shoot out on Tuesday night against Columbus.
Marian Hossa has four points (2 G, 2 A) in the four games he’s played with the Hawks since entering the lineup for the first time in San Jose. Cristobal Huet, who is 8-1-1 with a 1.95 goals against average in his last ten games, shut out Nashville on Oct 24, less than a week before Rinne returned the favor. Dustin Byfuglien has scored a goal in two of the three games between the two teams.
Patrick Kane has been good lately for the Hawks as well, with three multi-point games in his last five and consecutive two-point efforts coming into Friday night’s action. Jonathan Toews comes in having been +1 in four straight games and seven of the last nine, and has been great in the faceoff circle as well. Duncan Keith, the third of the newly-extended Hawks stars, enters Friday’s action ranking fourth among NHL defensemen with 23 points (5 G, 18 A).