Nashville ugly as Predators spank the Blackhawks 7-2 - FOX 32 News Chicago

Nashville ugly as Predators spank the Blackhawks 7-2

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

The score reflected their performance as on Saturday night the Chicago Blackhawks were beaten by the Nashville Predators, 7-2. The Hawks hadn't lost in Nashville since February 14, 2012 and had defeated the Preds six straight. Things looked good going into the game on paper but this one started out bad and got worse.

Nikolai Khabibulin got the start and gave up two goals, both shots could have been handled in a better fashion. With about five minutes to play in the opening frame Khabibulin appeared to pull a muscle and had to be replaced by Corey Crawford. It looks like Khabibulin could miss considerable time as he had to be helped off the ice.

Crawford came in and looked sharp but he couldn't withstand the carelessness of his teammates which created some great Predator scoring chances. The Hawks defenders didn't help much as Crawford had to deal with a lot of traffic near his crease. When Shea Weber scored the final Nashville goal on a powerplay a frustrated Crawford smashed his goal stick over the crossbar.

It was a fitting reaction to an ugly night as the encore appearance of Kris Versteeg in a Blackhawks uniform didn't turn out as he would have liked. Versteeg took one bad penalty but he didn't do as poorly as some others. He was credited with an assist and had four shots but was a minus one on the night.

Versteeg wasn't to blame as collectively the Blackhawks got what they deserved as this was probably their worst performance of the season. Maybe the Hawks got caught looking ahead to Sunday's game versus San Jose.

In any event Nashville was dialed on high even though they played on Friday and had just completed a seven game road trip. They were the better team from start to finish and nothing should be taken away from their effort. The Predators had suffered four losses in a row, and scored only 22 goals while playing 5 on 5 this season before facing Chicago.

In post game comments Joel Quenneville mentioned his club was more generous than he had seen in a long time. Meaning his squad played a careless, sloppy game and provided too many scoring chances. Jonathan Toews remarked the team has to work and can't go out and play pond hockey.

That about sums it up as now the focus will shift to a home ice battle with the Sharks. It seems like a certainty goaltender Antti Raanta will be called up from Rockford to backup Crawford. Maybe Quenneville surprises everyone and gives the highly touted rookie a start in net.

It's a long season and there will be off nights, but the best teams don't string together many poor performances. It won't matter what goalkeeper is between the pipes Sunday if the Hawks don't come up with a better effort.

The Blackhawks will look to get back on track on home ice as they won't return to the United Center until December 3.

Al's Shots

When it was announced Khabibulin was signed as a free agent this past summer a few things jumped off the page.

Khabibulin only played in 12 games last season and has been frequently injured over the last few years. When Khabibulin suffers an injury he never seems to rush back.

At 40 years of age, and considering he hasn't played in at least 60 regular season games since the 2006-2007 campaign, Khabibulin could be considered fragile.

According to Stan Bowman, he wanted Khabibulin specifically because he was a bona fide NHL starter at one time. There were not many others available with the same resume. It should be noted Khabibulin posted good numbers last season although in limited starts.

The overriding question was if Khabibulin could conform to a backup role and be effective. It is still a small sample but for now that answer is no, and Raanta will be forced up to Chicago rather than be brought up by design.

It would be logical Bowman would like Raanta to have at least 30 starts or so before being thrown into the fire. Raanta has performed pretty well in the AHL, but he's played in only 15 games. Maybe that's enough time to adjust to the smaller North American playing surface.

Bowman and Quenneville will be hoping Raanta can cope with the faster pace of NHL games. The last thing they would want is to damage the psyche of a young goaltender, but this is Plan B.

Time will tell how if Raanta is ready because if he isn't, Bowman will have to get creative.

The good news about Marcus Kruger is he has substantially improved his faceoff winning percentage in the last few weeks. Nashville is one of the better faceoff clubs around and Kruger was a winner of 7 of 12 draws, which was a team best.

On the downside, Kruger hasn't been impressive in more than a handful of games. Saturday night, he was a -3 and the Hawks need Kruger to get back to last season's form. Otherwise the fourth line can't be relied on and the penalty killing unit may continue to flounder.

In the front end of back to back games and in a lopsided loss, Toews played 19:29. He wasn't alone with a substantial workload as Patrick Kane led all forwards with 20:48 of ice time.

Marian Hossa missed the Nashville game with a lower body injury. Quenneville said following the game, Hossa may be able to play Sunday.

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

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