Found March 26, 2012 on Inside Smashville:

By Seth Lake

Flying into Chicago for Sunday night’s meeting with a well-rested Chicago Blackhawks team at the United Center for their second game in as many nights, the Nashville Predators task didn’t get any easier when they learned Sunday afternoon that leading scorer Martin Erat would not be able to play due to an upper-body injury.

 Pekka Rinne #35 Of The Nashville Predators (R) Talks

Nashville put forth a full team effort on Sunday night in Chicago

While the Blackhawks were without team captain Jonathan Toews (concussion) and Duncan Keith (suspension) in the lineup, they remain a formidable opponent on any given night and controlled play early in the game out shooting the Predators 3-0 up until the first television timeout. Coming out of the timeout, Jordin Tootoo took it upon himself to spark the team by dropping the gloves with Chicago forward Brandon Bollig at center ice. Despite losing the fight, the Predators seemed energized by the tilt and got out to a 2-0 lead by the end of the first period and added goals in both the second and third periods to skate to an easy 6-1 victory on the road.

  • Erat out, Tootoo in, briefly – With the team learning that Erat would not be able to play at some point on Sunday afternoon due to injury, the team turned to Tootoo to take his roster spot after sitting for the first time all season as a healthy scratch on Saturday night versus Winnipeg. Tootoo began the game on the fourth line, while Andrei Kostitsyn moved up to take Erat’s spot alongside his brother Sergei and Mike Fisher. Matt Halischuk moved up to take Andrei Kostitsyn’s place on Nick Spaling’s line.  All that went out the window, though, at the start of Tootoo’s second shift of the night as he dropped the gloves with Bollig and could not return to the game with an upper-body injury. While the fight did seem to change the momentum in favor of the Predators, the result left them with just 11 forwards for the majority of the game.

  • Halischuk making his case – For the second game in a row, Halischuk lit the lamp first for the Predators and was dangerous all night long. After watching linemates Brandon Yip and Paul Gaustad work the cycle in the right corner of the rink, Halischuk found a quiet area in the slot and quickly released a shot as he received the centering feed from Yip. The shot hit Chicago defenseman Johnny Oduya and deflected past Corey Crawford for Halischuk’s 14th goal of the season to give the Predators a 1-0 lead. Halischuk continued to find himself in on the offense the rest of the night eventually digging a puck out of the slot and kicking it out to Ryan Ellis to start the play leading to Francis Bouillon’s 2nd goal of the season in the third period.  In all, Halischuk had a goal and an assist on 4 shots on goal, threw 2 hits, and blocked 2 shots defensively in 13:49 of playing time. Despite his 14 goals on the season from the fourth line, Halischuk has found himself as the odd-man out on several occasions this season due to the Predators depth at forward. If he continues to score and play a complete game as he did in Chicago, it will be hard to sit him again.
  • Andrei takes advantage of opportunity – After breaking a six-game scoreless streak on Saturday night with an assist versus Winnipeg, Andrei Kostitsyn found himself elevated from the third line back into the top-six tonight as a result of Erat’s injury.  Skating with David Legwand and Patric Hornqvist late in the first period, Kostitsyn received a pass from Legwand in transition that sent him in with speed down the left wing. Realizing that Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook was closing in, Kostitsyn unleashed a wrist shot that deflected off Seabrook’s stick and past Crawford to give the Predators a 2-0 lead heading into the locker room. The goal was Andrei’s first in 7 games, but fourth as a Predator and second game-winning goal with the team.
  • Predators power play continues to click – With Dave Bolland off the ice for roughing, the Predators power-play unit went to work on their first advantage of the night. Establishing control of the puck in the zone off the faceoff win by Fisher, the puck was moved around the zone and eventually up to the point where Shea Weber uncorked a slap shot that snapped Marian Hossa’s stick in two and was then re-directed by the skate of Alexander Radulov towards the Chicago net where it went off the toe of Hornqvist’s skate in front of the net and past Crawford. After a brief review the goal stood giving the Predators a 3-0 lead and full control of the game. The Predators have scored 8 power-play goals in the last 9 games and remain the No. 1 ranked unit in the League converting on 21.8% of their opportunities.
  • Penalty kill goes 4 for 4, officially – According to the official scoresheet, the Predators took four minor penalties and killed off all four Chicago power play attempts. Unofficially however, Andrew Shaw beat Ellis back to a puck to negate an icing call and hit Viktor Stalberg on the half wall with a quick pass.  Stalberg stepped up into the seam in the coverage and unleashed a wrist shot through traffic that beat Pekka Rinne as Hornqvist stepped back onto the ice in the neutral zone. It was somewhat uncharacteristic of the Predators to give up four power play attempts against as they had been allowed just 17 attempts against in their previous 10 games.  On the season, the Predators penalty killing ranks 13th in the NHL with an 83.1% kill rate.
  • Weber from Fisher, part deux – For the second time in as many nights, Mike Fisher cleanly won a faceoff back to Weber who wasted no time firing the puck into the back of the net, only this time it wasn’t from the neutral zone or on an empty net.  On the shift following Stalberg’s goal for Chicago, Fisher won an offensive zone draw directly back to Weber who wound up and blasted a slap shot through traffic and beat Chicago netminder Ray Emery before he could even react. Emery had just entered the game after Bouillon put the Predators up 4-0 and hadn’t yet faced a shot.
  • Radulov continues to adjust – Much as Radulov is continuing to adjust back into the NHL, the fans and his linemates are going to need to continue adjusting to the player he has become. When he left for Russia, Radulov had yet to see a shot he would prefer to pass up, however as he has matured, his game has evolved and while he will still shoot the puck from every angle, he is now much more aware of where his teammates are on the ice and when he can make a pass to them for a better scoring opportunity. Radulov set up several Predators throughout the game at Chicago, including Hal Gill sneaking in from the point, and was the most dangerous player on the ice for either team yet again. Averaging over 20:30 in playing time the past two nights, it won’t be long before he breaks out. In 3 games thus far, Radulov has a goal and two assists for three points and a +1 rating.

Starts and stops

  • The Predators received goals from 6 different players in the game and points from 13 players overall including 4 multi-point games. 
  • Pekka Rinne remains tied atop the NHL leaderboard with Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury each with 41 wins on the season.
  • On the Predators final goal of the night, Rinne picked up his 4th assist of the season moving the puck around the wall to Gabriel Bourque who directed it past a pinching defender to set Fisher off on a 2 on 1 with Andrei Kostitsyn.
  • As a team, the Predators blocked 25 shots in front of Rinne with Kevin Klein and Fisher leading the way with 4 blocks apiece. As a team, Chicago blocked 11 shots total. 
  • While Paul Gaustad took the most faceoffs for the Predators, Legwand lead the team in winning his draws going 8-2 in the dot. Fisher went 12-8 and Gaustad 12-14.  As a team the Predators went 33-29 overall for a 53% success rate. 
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