Chicago Blackhawks shutdown the Predators 1-0 - FOX 10 News |

Blackhawks shutdown the Predators 1-0

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

On Saturday afternoon the Blackhawks played exactly how they must to beat the Nashville Predators as Ray Emery recorded a 1-0 shutout. For the vast majority of the contest the Hawks utilized tight checking to control the puck and prevented the Predators from mounting many scoring threats.

Nashville's playoff hopes for this season are fading. The Preds are only four points out of eight place but there are four teams ahead of them. It will be difficult to make up ground as Nashville has only nine games remaining.

In the matinee contest the shot totals were more reflective of the dominance of the Blackhawks than the one goal victory. Nashville's $7 million goaltender showed why he is one of the best. Without Pekka Rinne the Predators would have lost to the Hawks by a much wider margin.

In the opening frame Nashville managed a measly five shots on goal to Chicago's 10. Then in the second period the Hawks had a five shot edge, as the Predators could only muster a total of 13 shots through 40 minutes. In the final period Nashville finally showed some desperation but could only record seven shots on goal. The Blackhawks were credited with the same shot total in that period although Nashville had a four minute power play. Chicago posted a 30-20 shot total edge on the afternoon.

With Marian Hossa in the lineup and Patrick Sharp still out with a shoulder injury Joel Quenneville used a different look.

Quenneville utilized new addition Michal Handzus as the third line center between Viktor Stalberg and Bryan Bickell. Handzus is slow, Bickel skates alright for a big man and Stalberg can fly, so it sort of balances out. That's a big line and they looked good versus the Preds. Handzus made a beautiful saucer pass to Bickell who put the puck into a wide open cage for the game's only goal.

The fourth line featured Andrew Shaw at center flanked by Michael Frolik and Brandon Bollig. Shaw played about three fewer minutes than Handzus but that was partially due to less time as a penalty killer.

I'm not sure who will be designated as the third line center once the playoffs start but with Handzus, Quenneville has more options.

Dan Carcillo played at wing on the second line with Marcus Kruger at center and Patrick Kane. Once Sharp returns Carcillo will most likely have to battle for ice time and the same can be said for Bollig.

Come the first round of the playoffs the third and fourth lines could have a combinations of three centers, Handzus with either Kruger or Shaw. That's not an issue as Shaw and Kruger might be better wingers than they are centers.

One thing for certain is having Handzus taking important faceoffs late in the game will be an advantage the Hawks haven't had in a long time.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves the Blackhawks still have 11 games to go in the regular season.

The Predators should be fully engaged from the opening puck drop Sunday night. If not they can probably kiss a playoff appearance goodbye.

Most likely Quenneville will go back to Corey Crawford between the pipes Sunday night. Emery was sharp when needed in Nashville, and Crawford was good enough to win his last start which was versus the Preds. Crawford's effort in the shootout wasn't his best but that wasn't the reason the game was lost.

It would be a dramatic change of events if Crawford wasn't the starting goaltender when the playoffs begin. Emery alluded to the same in recent comments, but his 13-1 record is a true reflection of how well he has played.

In total, this season has surpassed the hopes of many Blackhawk faithful. How many would have thought Crawford would have a fine .922 save percentage with only 11 games remaining?

Sunday night will be a test of how interested the Blackhawks will be as they face the Predators for the third time in seven days. If the Hawks show the same type of effort as on Saturday, Nashville's playoff hopes could be toast.

Al's Shots

There has been much discussion of late as to proposed rule changes. The NHL seems to either wait too long to implement changes or to do so in a hasty fashion.

When the NHL went from one referee to two in part of the 1999 season and then full time for the playoffs that year, I think it was done too soon. It would have been wiser to wait until an adequate talent pool was available before doubling the amount of refs needed.

It wasn't long ago I heard there was a shortage of referees all the way down to East Coast Hockey League. The AHL didn't even start to implement a two referee system for some games until the 2010-2011 season. So in my view there is still a lack of quality officials in the NHL today.

I have two proposed rule changes that should be a no brainer and not difficult to implement.

1. After an icing, if a player who was off the ice when the whistle was blown tries to sneak onto the ice he should be given a two minute delay of game penalty.

2. A) Any player who instigates a fight with a player wearing a full face shield or additional face protection will be given a game misconduct and be suspended for the next contest.

B) If a player wearing a full face shield or additional face protection is determined to be an instigator in a fight he will be given a game misconduct plus be suspended for the next contest.

It has happened too often this season that players try to sneak on the ice after an icing. They almost always get caught but the subsequent delay gives their team more time to rest.

The NHL wanted to punish a team who iced the puck, so the rule was changed awhile ago. Including the faceoff being held in the defensive zone of the team that iced the puck, which was also a good idea. So now it's time to finish the job and add my recommendation.

Any fan of the sports who saw the Blues "sometimes" tough guy Barett Jackman start a fight with Stalberg the other night should be disgusted.

Jackman was upset by the way he and Stalberg went into the boards. There wasn't a penalty issued to Stalberg on the play, as Jackman was off balance.

Stalberg was wearing a full face shield after receiving a cut a few games ago that required 60 stitches. I refereed to Jackman as a "sometimes" tough guy because he always seems to pick his spots to fight. Stalberg wouldn't fight anyone with or without a face shield on, and Jackman knew the same.

If the NHL wants to clean up their image, the sight of Jackman trying to rip off Stalberg's face shield should be enough to implement my rule change.

Before any old timers bring up Bobby Hull fighting Montreal's tough guy John Ferguson with a broken jaw that was wired shut. A lot has changed since 1969.

I will be back on Monday morning and you can follow me on Twitter @AlCimaglia.

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