It’s not as if anyone has had much success against the Chicago Blackhawks this season.
Thus, the fact that the Nashville Predators lost to them 3-0 before a sellout crowd of 17,113 at Bridgestone Arena on Sunday is no great failure.
The fact that it was the first of five meetings between the teams is a bit problematic. After all, the vast majority of the Western Conference franchises will face the Blackhawks only three or four times in this lockout-shortened season.
If the Predators, therefore, cannot do better in the remaining four matchups they could pay a serious price, particularly since all four are scheduled for a three-week stretch in April – the heart of the playoff race.
In relative terms, that is still a long way off. The reality is that right now Chicago is the NHL’s best team. At 10-0-2, it is the only one that has yet to lose in regulation.
“Give them credit, they played a great game,” left wing Martin Erat said. “They skated well. They forced us to make mistakes and that’s what it’s all about. If you make more mistakes than them, they’re going to win the game.”
It was, in fact, a sequence of Nashville miscues that led to the game’s first goal, by Marcus Kruger at 6:14 of the second period.
“The first goal was a little bit of a comedy of errors,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “We turned the puck over along the wall about three times and then we didn’t get it deep. Then they threw it up and it went to one of our defensemen [Roman Josi], he kicked it to their forward and he threw it in the net.
“Just put a tent over that circus. You make five or six mistakes like that it’s going to end up in your net.”
With that, the Blackhawks became the first team since Phoenix on Jan. 28 to score an even-strength for goal against Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne.
All told, Rinne put together a stretch of 316:40 in which he allowed only power play goals – if he allowed anything at all. In his previous four starts he had one shutout and allowed just one goal three times.
Chicago didn’t stop at one, however. All three of its goals came during five-on-five play, the first two 66 seconds apart in the second period.
Jonathan Toews got the second when a Duncan Keith shot deflected off his chest and over the head of the 6-foot-5 Rinne. Patrick Kane scored the third with a seemingly harmless shot from the left boards at 4:27 of the third period.
“The third period we had some chances … [but] once they got the third goal, I think, that was sort of game, set and match,” Trotz said.
Chicago notched 15 of the first 18 shots and 20 of 27 through two periods. The final margin was 27-17 in the Blackhawks’ favor and it had a lot to do with the fact that they had twice as many takeaways (12) as did the Predators (six).
Still, the shot differential was nothing unusual given that the Blackhawks, who have won four straight, have had the edge in that regard in four of their last five while Nashville has outshot the opposition just once this season.
That the Predators did not score a goal was a bit different. While none of Chicago’s first 11 opponents managed a regulation victory, all of them scored at least one goal.
Nashville has been held scoreless three times in its last nine games.
“It’s always frustrating when you can’t get offense going, especially if you’re playing in the top couple lines – that’s your job,” left wing Colin Wilson, who had one shot, said. “… Anytime you see an undefeated team you want to beat them. I think that gives you a little bit of an added incentive. Aside from that, I think we were just taking it as another game.”
As it turned out, that’s exactly what it was – for the Blackhawks.