The Nashville Predators returned from the Christmas holiday and played much like they did in the last game before the break as they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1 in front of a sell-out Sommet Center crowd on Saturday night.
The Predators did not appear to be fully engaged while the Blackhawks took advantage of several Predator miscues.
“It was an important game for us,” said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville. “We responded to the game, played a perfect road game doing a lot of things right.”
Chicago got goals from Dustin Byfuglien, Patrick Kane, Andrew Ladd and Patrick Sharp while the Preds’ lone goal came from Marty Erat.
Chicago blistered the Predator nets firing 40 shots at Pekka Rinne who played well but had little support around the net as Predator miscues led to each Hawk goal.
“Pekka kept us in it,” said Jason Arnott. He made some great saves.”
Cristobal Huet had far less work in route to his 17th victory as the Predators only put 26 shots on net, and few were quality shots. The Predators only had one shot on goal midway through the first period.
“We came out fine but we didn’t want to shoot the puck for some reason and we ended up on the downside of a lopsided shot chart,” said Preds coach Barry Trotz.
Storylines from the Game
Chicago’s “Perfect Road Game”
Quenneville called the Hawks effort “the perfect road game.”
“It was an important game for us and we responded,” said Quenneville. “We did a lot of things right. I thought we got to the net well. I thought we moved the puck well. Every line was contributing. We were good in all areas.”
“They are a good hockey team, I take nothing away from them,” said Trotz. “We can be harder, we can be better and if we don’t believe it then our expectations as a group are way too low.”
Predators Lack of “Fire in the Belly”
Trotz was very upset after the game with the Preds’ lack of urgency given the circumstances with the Preds trailing the Hawks by four points and having back to back games.
“That was the number one thing I said, that it had to be a bigger deal,” Trotz noted. “More urgency. More fire in the belly. It’s just not another game against Chicago, it’s not one of 82 – you are battling for something. If we’re not battling, then our expectations of ourselves are too low. We just need to respond tomorrow.”
Effect on the Standings
The win extended the Blackhawks lead over the Predators to six points in the Central Division race and Sunday’s match is the last regular season game between the two teams.
“It is unusual that we are going to play our last game with them,” said Quenneville on the importance of the game. “This one is also important for everyone involved and we have to respond in kind. I’m not worried about statements, I’m worried about playing well.”
Shea Weber was clear that he Blackhawks are not the only team fighting for the top spot.
“Well, there are a lot of good teams,” Weber said. “As you can see from the standings it’s tight the whole way through. They are a good team, but there are a lot of good teams.”
The Preds and Hawks go back at it at the United Center at 6 p.m. Sunday. No one has expectations that it will necessarily be the same type game.
“When you play back-to-back games winning the first one is always nice,” said Huet after the game. “I think we can expect a little more from Nashville when we play them again.”
Trotz expects more on Sunday in Chicago.
“We are going to correct what we didn’t do today and we are going to go into Chicago with what I hope will be our best effort,” he said. “I’m OK if your best effort isn’t good enough. That’s part of the game, part of sports. But we need more people sacrificing a little bit more. We need everybody all in and tonight we had some guys who weren’t quite all in.”
“There are no excuses,” Weber said. “We’ve got to be ready to go and we’ve got to be better.”