The first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs will begin with the Chicago Blackhawks in Nashville on Wednesday night. Let’s look ahead at what we might expect (hint: who knows?).
Game One will be the first time these two teams face off in 2015; their last regular season game came on December 29. In the regular season:
- Oct. 18 in Chicago – Blackhawks win 2-1 (OT)
- Oct. 23 in Nashville – Predators win 3-2
- Dec. 6 in Nashville – Blackhawks win 3-1
- Dec. 29 in Chicago – Blackhawks win 5-4 (SO)
The Blackhawks statistical leaders in those four games:
- Duncan Keith – 4 games, 0 goals, 4 assists, +6
- Marian Hossa – 4 games, 3 goals, 0 assists
- Brandon Saad – 4 games, 1 goal, 2 assists
- Bryan Bickell – 4 games, 1 goal, 2 assists, 5 PIM
Somewhat surprisingly, the Blackhawks best player at the dot against the Preds this year was Andrew Shaw, who won 59.5 percent of his faceoffs. Marcus Kruger won 58.3 percent of his draws, while Jonathan Toews only won 46 percent of his opportunities at the dot.
But it’s hard to use these numbers for a series beginning in mid-April. Patrick Kane is injured, and there are other players being used differently than they were four days after Christmas.
As a team, the Blackhawks offense ranks only 26th in the league, scoring a mediocre 2.24 goals per game since the All-Star break. The Preds rank 18th offensively, scoring 2.56 per night.
Defensively, however, Nashville hasn’t been as good since the break. The Preds have allowed 2.69 goals per night, which also ranks 28th in the league. Chicago, on the other hand, has allowed only 2.24 per game (as many as they’ve scored). The Blackhawks rank third in the NHL in goals allowed per game since the break.
Surprisingly, the Preds have a very average .903 save percentage as a team since the break, while the Hawks have received stellar play between the pipes; Corey Crawford and Scott Darling have combined for a .928 save percentage since the break.
Pekka Rinne and Crawford have each appeared in 27 games since the All-Star break, and they both have one shutout. However, Crawford’s .927 save percentage against 30.1 shots per game is much better than Rinne’s .911 against only 27.9 shots per game. Indeed, Crawford has only one fewer save (753) than Rinne has faced total shots (754) since the break.
For Nashville, star rookie Filip Forsberg slowed down considerably after the All-Star break. Forsberg lit up the league with 40 points (15 goals, 25 assists) and a plus-24 mark in his first his first 45 games, but has only 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) and is minus-10 since the break.
For Chicago, Patrick Kane is now questionable – not doubtful – for the first round. Teuvo Teravainen didn’t make his season debut until January; he didn’t play against the Predators at all this season.
Antoine Vermette had one goal and one assist (both on the power play) but was minus-three in two games against the Preds while a member of the Coyotes this season. He also won 58.3 percent of his faceoffs against Nashville, but led Arizona with six penalty minutes on those contests. Of course Vermette is now with the Blackhawks, but his role is evolving over the last two weeks.
Nashville hasn’t seen a Blackhawks lineup with Kane, Teravainen, Vermette, Andrew Desjardins and Kimmo Timonen. That being said, Chicago hasn’t seen Kane in the lineup with Vermette, Desjardins or Timonen, either. If/When Kane returns to the Blackhawks lineup is a game-changer for the series.
If the Preds spend as much time on strategy for the Blackhawks on the ice as they have for Chicago’s fans, they’ll be good on the white board. But what they look like on the ice is another matter.
Prediction: Hawks in Six