By Brad Gardner
The Blackhawks saw their seven-game point streak snapped after a sluggish game in Nashville against the division rival Predators. Despite two goals from Marian Hossa, a flurry of goals from the home team in the middle period turned out to be the difference in Chicago’s first regulation loss since January 6th.
The opening period was characterized by chippy play from both sides. Nashville out-chanced the visitors, but Marian Hossa managed to put the ‘Hawks on the board first on the team’s second shot of the period. Andrew Shaw dropped a short pass to Hossa at center ice, who gained the zone with enough speed to beat Shea Weber to the outside. He protected the puck as he crossed over and beat Rinne inside the right post for his 19th goal of the season.
Craig Smith drew the Preds even just over two minutes later with a power play goal. Rookie defenseman Ryan Ellis had an open lane from the blue line and Smith provided both the traffic in front of Blackhawks’ starter Corey Crawford and the finish on the rebound to make it a 1-1 game going into the first intermission.
Nashville got to Crawford again in the second period, with the first coming off the stick of defenseman Kevin Klein from the neutral zone. Klein was looking to dump it in on net from the red line, but the puck took a sideways bounce and beat Crawford to his blocker side. Difficult bounce for Crawford to handle, but still a humiliating goal that will be replayed quite a bit.
That goal turned out to be the game-changer, as Nashville added another two goals to their lead before the end of the second. Colin Wilson converted an easy chance set up by a cross-crease feed from David Legwand for the Preds’ third goal at the 11:14 mark of the period.
Their fourth goal came off the stick of Sergei Kostitsyn, who used a deke to get Crawford sprawling and hit the open net up high. Duncan Keith was beat outside by Legwand as he entered the zone, which led to Nick Leddy sliding over to cover Keith’s spot. That decision by Leddy hung Crawford out to dry against Kostitsyn, who had the time and patience to let Crawford go down before making it a 4-1 Nashville lead. Crawford was pulled after the goal having given up four goals on 17 shots from the Preds.
The ‘Hawks got one back early in the third when Hossa converted a breakaway 48 seconds into the final frame. Niklas Hjalmarsson delivered a long stretch pass right onto the tape of Hossa behind the defense and the veteran barely settled the puck before backhanding it between the legs of Rinne.
The late push would be snuffed out just a couple minutes later when Nashville got a deflection goal from Patric Hornqvist. Klein shot the puck from the blue line towards the traffic in front of Ray Emery and Hornqvist got it past Emery to push the lead back to three goals. The 5-2 score would hold up as the final, marking just the second time since November in which the ‘Hawks have given up five goals in a game.
– Much will be made of the ‘Hawks late arrival in Nashville after their game Friday in Chicago against the Panthers, but there was very little energy to be had by any unit for the ‘Hawks as they managed just 22 shots for the game. They were lucky to be tied 1-1 after just two shots in the first period. The best push came early in the second, but goals from the neutral zone have a way of erasing momentum.
– With a tired team of skaters, having a fresh goalie in Corey Crawford should have been an advantage. Instead, he turned in one of his worst starts of the year. He struggled to handle shots cleanly and was repeatedly caught out of position. The goal from the red line was enough to make Crawford want to forget this one altogether and it didn’t get any better through the rest of the second period for him.
– Nick Leddy had a game to forget as well, skating to a minus-two. His failed clear eventually led to Wilson’s goal and then he left Kostitsyn wide open to challenge the puck against the 2-on-1 later.
– The Blackhawks drew two penalties in the first period and then were not whistled for an infraction the rest of the way. They killed one of the two penalties, but Smith’s goal hurt when it was starting to look like the ‘Hawks might escape the first with a lead. Nashville killed Chicago’s lone power play late in the third.
– Three stars of the game… 3. Marian Hossa, 2. Sergei Kostitsyn, 1. Kevin Klein
– Jonathan Toews left the game in the second period with an upper-body injury. I didn’t catch any specific plays where he might have gotten hurt in this game, so my guess is that it stems from the wrist injury suffered last night against Florida. After the game, Quenneville called him day-to-day.
– Ryan Suter did not play but is close to returning to the Nashville line-up, possibly as soon as Tuesday. The Preds also lost Francis Bouillon in the second period, limiting them to five defensemen through the second half. That didn’t make a difference against the listless ‘Hawks.
– After a solid game Friday against Florida and a decent job of settling things down against Nashville (five saves on six shots in 20-plus minutes), Emery likely earned the start for the ‘Hawks in their last game before the All-Star break. That game will be played Tuesday at the United Center against these same Predators.