Each Wednesday throughout the regular season, Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the teams competing in the “Wednesday Night Hockey” games on NBCSN in his Weekes on the Web blog.
It’s the second game of a back-to-back when the Chicago Blackhawks visit the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on “Wednesday Night Hockey” (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN), one of eight times the Discover Central Division rivals will play this season.
Nashville (3-3-0) which defeated Chicago (2-3-2) 3-2 in overtime on a goal by Roman Josi on Tuesday, ended a three-game losing streak.
Here’s my breakdown of the game.
Pluses: It was nice to see rookie Pius Suter get on the board with a hat trick in a 6-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday. Hopefully that can get his confidence going after he was the leading scorer and most valuable player of the National League A, the top professional league in Switzerland, with 30 goals and 53 points in 50 games last season. If he continues to play with Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat, he should have a great season.
Kevin Lankinen has looked good in his three games so far. The rookie goalie is 2-0-1 with a 2.63 goals-against average and .909 save percentage. That is encouraging for the Blackhawks, who opted not to acquire a veteran and instead are relying on Lankinen, Collin Delia and Malcolm Subban this season.
Lastly, the power play has been lights out to start the season, going 9-for-21 (42.9 percent), including scoring at least one power-play goal in each of their seven games. It’s early, but that’s an encouraging sign, since Chicago ranked 28th in the NHL last season with the man-advantage (15.2 percent).
Minuses: They are still without center Jonathan Toews, who is out indefinitely because of an illness. DeBrincat, who has scored six points (two goals, four assists) in six games, and defenseman Adam Boqvist also will be out after each was added to the NHL COVID-19 protocol list on Monday.
In their first four games of the season, all losses, they allowed five goals in each game. Although they’ve scored 12 goals in their past three games, the Blackhawks don’t have the firepower to keep up with teams that score that many goals. There are a lot of young players learning on the fly and it will take some time to improve defensively.
Although the power play has been good, the penalty kill has not. They’ve allowed seven goals while shorthanded, including at least two in three games. Nashville hasn’t been great offensively but could get the ball rolling if they get some power-play chances.
Pluses: Filip Forsberg is off to a good start with four goals in six games. The forward has scored at least 21 goals in six straight seasons and is on pace to get to that total again. Also off to a fast start is forward Viktor Arvidsson, who has scored five points (one goal, four assists) in six games.
Juuse Saros has done a good job as he seemingly takes over the No. 1 job from longtime Predators goalie Pekka Rinne. Saros is 2-2-0 with a 3.02 GAA and .905 save percentage but the numbers were misleading. His team scored two goals and allowed eight power-play goals in two games against the Dallas Stars.
Minuses: The Predators have allowed 16 goals in their past four games and a big reason for that was the penalty kill. They have allowed 10 goals on 22 shorthanded opportunities and have the worst penalty-killing percentage in the league (54.6 percent).
They need more players to step up offensively. I know it’s early but no one besides Arvidsson, Forsberg and Mikael Granlund (three points) has more than two points. That includes Josi, last season’s Norris Trophy winner voted as the top defenseman in the NHL. He has scored one goal and one assist in six gammes.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Can Suter and Forsberg continue their hot streaks?
2. Will either penalty kill step up?
3. Who starts in goal in the second of the back-to-back set?