It was a long night in the United Center, as the upstart, seventh-seeded Nashville Predators essentially outlasted the mighty Blackhawks to take game one of series one. As it’s already well into Saturday morning, I’ll assume each of you has seen the game or read other recaps, so we’ll skip the pleasentries.
As always, there’s good news and there’s bad news. Let’s take a deep breath and go with the good first.
The Good News
– In games two yesterday evening, series favorites Detroit, San Jose, New Jersey and Pittsburgh won after each surrendered game one. In the end, though game one is always important, it seems all the Hawks have done is miss an opportunity to play a short series.
– I thought Antti Niemi played well. Yes, the first goal was a bad one – probably more flukey than anything – but Niemi seemed to answer the bell, making a few big stops and generally keeping the Hawks in it. He’ll be fine.
The Bad News
– Many people have said during the past couple seasons that playing an overly physical game is the way to beat the Hawks. That’s absolutely incorrect, and one needn’t look further than last year’s first two rounds against Calgary and Vancouver – not to mention every game against the Blues during the past two seasons. The way to beat the Hawks during that time – as many others have opined – is to play a disciplined game in the defensive and neutral zones, taking away the Hawks’ strengths, and to make good on a couple opportunities along the way.
Enter stage left, Nashville Predators. What makes them difficult is their ability to play disciplined and aggressive hockey at the same time. It’s a bit like walking and chewing gum at the same time.
– The best defense is a good offense, and the Preds’ forecheck yesterday evening was downright fantastic. Most notably, the Predators get each forward involved, and the defensemen seem to get involved more often than not as well. The Hawk wingers were out-classed by the Predator defensemen much of the evening; they’ll need to be lower in the breakout tomorrow, so as to (i) invite Predator defensemen too low and (ii) be able to catch a pass and make a play before being engaged by a defenseman.
This means that Marian Hossa will actually have to step foot in the defensive zone on the breakout.
– In that same vein, the Hawks’ third pairing was bad. At points, it seemed like there was a better chance that John would become an astronaut than the Hawks would be able to break the puck out with the third pairing on the ice.
The mistake by Troy Brouwer in the third – to cough up the puck in the Hawks zone while rejecting an easy opportunity to step it out – was a very bad one. At the least, he needs to be aware that Sopel and Hendry were having trouble and that the pressure needed to be alleviated.
– During the past week of the regular season, the Hawks’ power play was better; most notably, they zone entries were much better than they were prior to that. During game one, the zone entry seemed predictable and was mostly unsuccessful. And, unless the Hawks plan on scoring from the neutral zone on the power play, the zone entry will have to be better on Sunday.
– Remember, the Hawks advantage over Nashville is its ability to score goals. Playing in one-goal, low scoring games plays right into the hands of the Preds.