Blackhawks-Predators: Five things to watch

Blackhawks-Predators: Five things to watch
November 16, 2013, 12:45 pm
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The Blackhawks won their fourth straight game in Thursday's 5-4 shootout victory over the Coyotes and will now face the Predators on the road. Catch all the action beginning at 6:30 with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It’s been a hectic two days for Kris Versteeg, the forward who found himself back with the Chicago Blackhawks via a trade late Thursday night. Thrilled to return to the team with which he won a Stanley Cup in 2010, Versteeg admitted he was going on little sleep after Friday’s practice.

“There's no sleep (Thursday) night,” he said on Friday. “You're just excited and really trying to process everything that's going on.”

Well, now that it’s Saturday, and despite an evening in Nashville, we’re figuring Versteeg got enough sleep to be ready for the Blackhawks’ game against the Predators here tonight. But there are a few more storylines besides Versteeg’s return. So here are the Five Things to watch for in tonight’s game:

1. The Blackhawks on the other side. Viktor Stalberg and Carter Hutton will face their former franchise for the first time since free agency brought both to Nashville. It’s been an interesting start for each in Music City, as Stalberg looks to find his offensive touch and Hutton was thrust into the starting goaltending job with Pekka Rinne’s hip infection. How will they fare tonight (assuming Hutton plays)? There will certainly be some extra motivation for each, regardless.

[MORE: Old teammates reunite as Blackhawks face Predators]

2. Nikolai Khabibulin will get another chance at redemption tonight. It’s been more than two weeks since he last started, and that one didn’t end well – it just ended prematurely. The Blackhawks don’t need Khabibulin to be off the charts. They just need him to be solid. And they need him to be that now. If not, the leash gets that much shorter and you wonder if the Blackhawks look to Rockford to solve their backup issues.

3. The third line is bolstered. The Blackhawks got Versteeg to add to their depth, and he’ll start on the third line with Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw tonight. We all remember what the third line brought to the Blackhawks last season: some grit, some energy and some goals. We’re figuring Versteeg will be giddy to be back in a Blackhawks uniform again, and this line will be noticeable.
4. The Predators are coming off a tough 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night, so the Blackhawks want to strike early and often. The Predators’ goaltending issues are evident; Hutton (4-3-1, 3.39 goals-against average) is adjusting on the fly after just one NHL start prior to this season, and Marek Mazanec (0-2-0, 3.62 GAA) hasn’t fared much better. Things are not good in the Predator net. The Blackhawks need to apply the offensive pressure immediately tonight.

[MORE: Blackhawks notes: Khabibulin returns to the net]

5. Who has the big night for the Blackhawks? Our research tells us (and by research, we mean basically picking a number out of a hat) it will be Patrick Kane. Yeah, we went out on a limb on that one, didn’t we?