The Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks lock horns on a Sunday at the United Center. With the NFL slowing down, and as we get closer to the Super Bowl, the NHL begins to take on a larger role on Sundays. There is a sample of games today, with six games on the docket. After football is done, expect to see bigger matchups and marquee games taking place on a Sunday. NBC typically has their showcase game of the week here, so it’s usually a good one.
Especially with the NHL playoffs getting closer, everything begins to get amplified that much more. For today, we handicap the Preds and Blackhawks, playing in downtown Chicago. Being a fan of the Predators has to be frustrating. They were so close to breaking through that invisible barrier they could smell it. The Predators looked like they were going to be a team who was eventually going to turn a corner and be a major contender.
Barry Trotz was ultimately fired for not being able to get them to that point. He picked up his bags and moved to Washington where he’s found more success with the Capitals. At the heart of his dismissal was his inability to get much offence out of his lineups. The defence was a top 5 unit for pretty well the duration of his time spent in Nashville. The Capitals own one of the best defences in the NHL, so it’s all carried over to Washington. With some more firepower, the Capitals can score the puck, too.
The problem was definitely not Trotz, the Preds have taken a step back since him, notably in the defensive department. The offence has picked up a bit, but the defence has suffered in the process. Nashville are 17-15-4 and I can say that isn’t where they envisioned themselves being a couple years ago at this point. The Preds enter today after dropping a 2-1 decision to the Florida Panthers. Conversely, the Hawks are winners of two in a row. Let’s get to our NHL pick for Sunday below.
Pekka Rinne has been the primary starter in Nashville for the last nine years. Rinne has flirted with being an elite goaltender in the NHL during that time as well. He’s had a couple of fantastic years, posting a GAA of 2.18 in 2014-2015 and a 2.12 GAA in 2010-2011. In other years, Rinne has been fairly average. This year has been one of those solid seasons for him, but hanging under elite status. Rinne has boasted a GAA of 2.45 and 0.918% save percentage. He has a record of 17-15-4 over Chicago, which is oddly enough the same record the Preds have this season.
Overall, though, the defence has taken a hit for the Predators. They are allowing 2.62 goals per game, which is 13th in the NHL. For a team who were frequently featured in the top 5 in defensive stats, yes, that is a considerable jump. P.K. Subban was brought in from Montreal, but it’s a wash considering they traded Weber in the deal. The Blackhawks are 8th on defence, led by Corey Crawford and his 2.34 GAA. Nashville have gone 9-23 playing in Chicago, and also only 1 win at the United Center in their last five attempts. The Preds have gone a lousy 7-10-2 away from Nashville. All signs point to what should be a victory in favor of the Blackhawks on Sunday.
PICK: BLACKHAWKS TO WIN -145