Central: Blackhawks inch closer to Predators in the NHL standings

By Andrew Sykes

Photo: Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith notched four assists in his team’s win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night (courtesy of

Danny Murphy/Icon SMI)

If you were a betting man, you would have bet the house on both the Nashville Predators and the Chicago Blackhawks to come out victorious in their respective games on Tuesday night. In doing so you would have been up big for a little while, but just as quickly as you could say ‘Radulov’ you would have been back to even.

Separated by four points in the battle for fourth-place in the Western Conference standings, Chicago and Nashville were in action against the NHL’s two worst teams last night.

On the road against the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets, Chicago dominated their inferior opponents from the get-go by scoring three first period goals en route to a 5-1 win.

In dire need of some secondary scoring over the last month, rookie forward Andrew Shaw continued to provide the Blackhawks with just that. The unheralded fifth-round pick tallied a goal and an assist and has now registered three goals and three assists in his past three games.

Duncan Keith picked up four assists and Patrick Sharp scored his 29th and 30th goals of the season to help Chicago move within two points of both Detroit and Nashville in the standings.

"We’re feeling good right now," Duncan Keith told the Associated Press in regard to the team’s hot play of late. "The one thing we’ve learned is we’re not going to take anything for granted. We’re playing better but we know there’s still more there that we have to get better at.”

With Nashville taking on the league’s next-to-last team, on home ice nonetheless, it did not seem likely that the Blackhawks would remain two points back by night’s end. Instead, the Predators came out flat and Pekka Rinne had a rare off night between the pipes, yielding three goals on the first seven shots that the Edmonton Oilers sent his way.

Ales Hemsky had a hat-trick and four points and Devan Dubnyk made 42 saves in the Oilers 6-3 win, their third victory over the Predators in four meetings this season.

I don’t think we’ve given the Oilers enough respect (in past games),” captain Shea Weber told the Edmonton Journal following his team’s defeat.

Chicago’s win and the missed opportunity by Nashville will make the two teams’ schedules for the rest of the week that much more important, a week that ends with the two teams facing off on Sunday night in Chicago.

The Blackhawks face a quick turn around as they will be back at home for a showdown with the Vancouver Canucks tonight, while the Predators next game presents an even greater challenge when they travel to Pittsburgh for a meeting with a Penguins team that is closing in on juggernaut status.

Central Divison Notes

Columbus Blue Jackets The Blue Jackets lone goal in the loss to Chicago came off the stick of captain Rick Nash. It was the first goal in seven games for Nash and his 25th of the season, giving him eight straight seasons in which he has scored 25+ goals.

Detroit Red Wings
The struggling Red Wings have been bitten hard by the injury bug and got some more bad news yesterday. Speedy forward Darren Helm will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a sprained MCL suffered in Saturday’s game against San Jose. “I was going to hit [the Sharks’ Dominic] Moore, but I kind of didn’t take the best angle on him," Helm told the Dearborn Press and Guide. “He kind of jumped out of the way a little bit, trying to avoid the hit and we just kind of collided. It was just one of those funky collisions. I was in pain right away.”

St. Louis Blues
The Blues will play their fifth of a seven-game road trip tonight against the Anaheim Ducks. Yesterday, the team received some good news as Andy McDonald practiced for the second straight day and seems to be recovering quickly from a shoulder injury suffered this past Thursday. The Blues also hope to have David Backes (bruised foot) and Jason Arnott (general soreness) back in the line-up, although a return for Arnott might still be a couple of games away.