Why Blackhawks will have their hands full with Predators

Why Blackhawks will have their hands full with Predators

The Blackhawks are a shoe-in favorite to come out of the Western Conference, and even win another Stanley Cup.

That's what happens when you've climbed to the top of the mountain three times in the last seven years, and have superstars like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith leading the charge on the ice and Hall of Fame coach Joel Quenneville behind the bench.

But Chicago will have its hands full in the first round against the Nashville Predators for a variety of reasons.

Let's start with the numbers.

The Predators own the best even-strength possession numbers out of all eight playoff teams in the West, controlling 51.4 percent of the shot attempts — also known as Corsi For percentage. It's the third straight season they've finish among the top-7 overall in that category. (The Blackhawks finished 12th overall this year with a 50.4 percentage).

Now, if you trim the category down to even strength within a one-goal game to get a feel for how teams play in a tight matchup, the Predators — and Blackhawks — hover near the middle of the pack. But they're consistent in this area:

— When the Predators are leading, they rank No. 7 in the league with a 46.7 Corsi For percentage.

— When the Predators are trailing, they rank No. 3 in the league with a 58.5 Corsi For percentage.

For comparison:

— When the Blackhawks are leading, they rank No. 17 in the league with a 44.7 Corsi For percentage.

— When the Blackhawks are trailing, they rank No. 5 in the league with a 58.2 Corsi For percentage.

The Predators don't play any differently when they're ahead or behind. They stay aggressive — unlike the Blackhawks who tend to take their foot off the gas when jumping in front — and that's a key ingredient in the playoffs, where no lead is safe. The Predators know that after they squandered a 3-0 lead in Game 1 against the Blackhawks in 2015 and fell 4-3 in overtime.

[VIVID SEATS: Get your Blackhawks tickets right here!]

Speaking of overtime, the Predators had a rough record in that area this year winning only four of 12 games, and also went 2-4 in the shootout. They left way too many points on the table, which is a large reason why they finished in a wild-card spot.

But as we know, 3-on-3 and shootouts don't exist in the playoffs, and that's great news for the Predators given their success at even strength, as detailed above.

Here's the most important note on why the Predators may give the Blackhawks headaches, and the differentiation between this year's team and the two they've fielded against Chicago in the past:

— In 2009-10, the Predators had nine players score 10 or more goals while the Blackhawks had 11. (Blackhawks won series in six games, went on to win Stanley Cup).

— In 2014-15, the Predators had eight players score 10 or more goals while the Blackhawks had 10. (Blackhawks won series in six games, went on to win Stanley Cup).

— This year, the Predators had 12 players finish with 10 or more goals while the Blackhawks had only seven. (A year ago the Predators and Blackhawks both had eight).

Nashville has had its best four-line rotation in a while, and it's getting key contributions on offense from the blue line group — Ryan Ellis (16 goals), Roman Josi (12) and P.K. Subban (10) — that's, oh by the way, one of the best at preventing goals, too.

It will be important for the Predators to jump on the Blackhawks early, though. They've never won a playoff series in franchise history when losing Game 1 (0-7), and the Blackhawks are 32-8 in Games 5-7 under Quenneville compared to 44-40 in Games 1-4. The Blackhawks are almost impossible to put away.

It won't be a must-win for either team, but Game 1 on Thursday will have that feel to it, especially for Nashville.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks offense finally opens things up as Patrick Kane starts streaking

USA Today

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Blackhawks offense finally opens things up as Patrick Kane starts streaking

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Charlie Roumeliotis break down the changes made to the Hawks defensive zone coverage (1:50) and Patrick Kane’s current points streak (7:30). They also discuss how most of the players that have been scratched recently have had bounce-back efforts (11:20), as well as the improved play of Erik Gustafsson (18:12) and both special teams units (20:16). Plus, the debut of “Checkpoint Charlie," where Charlie gives us a taste of life on the road and his encounter with Chris Rock’s brother (29:00).

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 


Blackhawks Talk Podcast


Jeremy Colliton explains schematic change and why Blackhawks made it

Jeremy Colliton explains schematic change and why Blackhawks made it

The Blackhawks made a schematic change after their four-game road trip and they've seen the benefits of it immediately. They're 2-0-1 in their past three games and have scored 12 goals over that stretch.

We broke down on Monday what changes were made systematically and how it has freed up the offense, but head coach Jeremy Colliton elaborated on it Tuesday and explained the reasoning behind the decision.

"All it is is, our weak side forward, we pushed him up higher in defensive zone coverage," Colliton said. "Before, we had four low a lot of times, to try and overload in certain situations. That's good, it gets you out of D-zone, but the problem is when you win the puck back, a lot of times you're very close together and it's harder to make clean plays, it's harder to exit with space to make plays. So we were having trouble entering the zone.

"There's been a lot of talk about how we have been dumping too many pucks in. Well, we're not trying to dump the puck in, but when you're attacking and you don't have numbers, you don't have space in behind, you have to, you're forced too. I think we're doing a much better job of getting from D-zone clean, because we have a forward a little bit higher, there's a little more space, it happens quicker. And then I think we've done a good job with the low three [of] someone jumping by and then we can create a little bit more space off the rush and we don't have to chip it in. We can enter clean, make some plays and I think the guys are doing very well."

Patrick Kane, who has erupted for seven points (four goals, three assists) in the past three games since the change, sees the change opening up more opportunities for the Blackhawks on offense.

"I think a lot of us probably stressed that there wasn't as much flow to it, for whatever reason that was," Kane said. "They made a change and all of a sudden it seems like we have more options coming out of our end, we have more motion, more speed coming out of our end, which is always a good thing."

The Blackhawks' dump-in rate, as Colliton noted, has been much higher this season and it’s noteworthy because they generated a lot of their offense off the rush last season from mid-December and on. But what we didn’t know was the exact reason why the Blackhawks altered the way they entered the offensive zone.

Aside from the obvious answer of cutting down on neutral zone turnovers and limiting the amount of odd-man rushes against, Colliton notes the Blackhawks were forced to dump it in more because they weren’t entering the zone with numbers. The defensive scheme didn’t really allow them to.

But with the recent fundamental change, the Blackhawks have more options to exit their own zone cleanly, pick up speed through the neutral zone and do what they do best: by carrying the puck in and having more freedom to create offense. It’s something the coaching staff and players discussed with each other, and the consensus is it will maximize the talent of this group.

"We kind of felt it was time," Colliton said. "I mean, we're always talking with them for sure and guys, they want to score more. They want to produce, guys want to make plays. And so we're just trying to find the balance. We want to continue to work on being good defensively, but we've got to score more than them. I think we can still hold onto those defensive gains we've made and score more goals."

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