The Predators have been basking in the glow of that 4-game sweep of the Blackhawks in Round 1 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs for two years now, and us fans are still having a field day with it as well. Compared to the Chicago teams from 2008-2016, this current roster is, let's say, rough. The Preds will enjoy another year of winning their season series against the Hawks.
The Blackhawks just barely broke .500 last season, but made only minor moves in the offseason in response. Their defense weakened, while the Preds' offense got stronger.
The Hawks were pretty pitiful on defense last year. They were scored on 291 times- 244 being the league average. Their Corsi Against total (3940) was about 160 over league average (3783), according to Hockey Reference.
To remedy the lacking defense, they picked up Calvin de Haan from Carolina and Olli Maatta from Pittsburgh. de Haan is an average pickup- he's put together some solid seasons with New York and one with Carolina. He's a consistent guy who could provide some stability to Chicago's blue line. Maatta is in about the same boat; he won't hurt the team but he probably won't dazzle either. de Haan has two career points and a -1 rating against the Preds, Maatta has three career points and a 0 rating against the Preds.
One of their biggest moves this summer was a questionable one. Trading Henri Jokiharju to Buffalo for winger Alex Nylander left a lot of people miffed. Jokiharju was chosen 29th overall by the Hawks in the 2017 draft and recorded 12 assists in 38 games played last season- his first in the NHL. Nylander has been in the league two years longer than Jokiharju and has only played in 19 games with a collective 6 points notched. The idea of Nylander matching up with Dylan Sikura on the wings makes sense for a third-line pairing- they're both young and could grow to be real threats on the offense. But if it doesn't work out with Nylander and he keeps leapfrogging from to the AHL and back, the loss of Jokiharju will be felt on an over-worked defense.
The Blackhawks have been notorious as of late for their inconsistent (and just pure unlucky) goaltending. Corey Crawford just isn't the same guy he was during Chicago's golden years, he's battled concussions and myriad other injuries over the past couple years which has led to a lengthy string of call-ups and substitutions in the Hawks' net. The addition of Robin Lehner, who won the Jennings Trophy for least goals scored against last year, will provide the team with a much-needed steady hand in goal. Lehner is 2-1-2 all-time facing the Preds.
Little fun fact: Lehner and David Legwand were traded to Buffalo by Ottawa in the same 2015 deal.
The Blackhawks reaped the third overall pick in the draft this June and took Kirby Dach- a sneaky, smooth skating center with great puck protection instincts. He has the size at 6'4 to be a devastating roadblock in front of the net. He will likely play in the NHL this season, so the Preds need to be ready to impede his potent offensive skill and take shots that evade his large frame.
Patrick Kane has always going been a thorn in the Predators' side and probably won't let up this year. Since the 2015-2016 season alone, Kane has put up 21 points against the Preds. Being the playmaker that he is, if Kane is pressured, so is everyone else around him. For the love of all things holy, just stifle Patrick Kane.
With the Preds' now studded offense and still solid D-corps, they should be able to dominate most of the minutes they play against Chicago.