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At the Rink: Predators at Coyotes

by Jerry Brown

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The Arizona Coyotes managed to deal with a long stretch without Martin Hanzal. But having the 6-foot-5 center back in the lineup makes things a lot easier.

Hanzal has missed 13 of the Arizona's first 40 games this season, but he returned Thursday and scored the deciding goal in a big 2-1 win against the Calgary Flames to keep the Coyotes rolling.

The Coyotes are 6-2-1 in their past nine games and open a seven-game homestand Saturday against the Nashville Predators (9 p.m., ET; FS-A, FS-TN).

Arizona hopes Hanzal's injury problems finally are behind him. He has 21 points in 27 games and played a role in Oliver Ekman-Larsson's first-period power-play goal on Thursday with traffic in front of the net.

"He's just a guy who's hard to handle," Arizona coach Dave Tippett said. "You don't realize how much you miss him until he comes back. He creates all kinds of problems for teams when he gets around the crease. He likes the rewards of being down there more than the risks.

"You see the highlights from the [Calgary game] and he's just hard to handle in those spots."

The Coyotes (20-16-4) play 14 of their next 18 games at Gila River Arena, where they are 10-6-4 this season. A win Saturday would tie the number of home wins Arizona had all of last season (11).

The win against Calgary completed a 2-0-1 trip through Western Canada against several teams in the thick of the Western Conference playoff standings. The same is true for the Predators, who have beaten the Coyotes six straight times and have a seven-game points streak (6-0-1) against Arizona.

Nashville (19-15-7) has 45 points this season, one more than Arizona.

Ryan Johansen had an impressive Nashville debut with a power-play goal and an assist Thursday, but the Predators lost 5-3 against the Colorado Avalanche and have lost four of their past five (1-3-1) overall.

Nashville didn't skate Saturday morning, Goalie Pekka Rinne took the loss against Colorado and has played on back-to-back nights once this season. But he has won five straight starts against the Coyotes with a 1.37 goals-against average and a shutout, and could play.

Goalie Louis Domingue, 5-0-2 with a .941 save percentage in seven starts this season for Arizona, will start Saturday. With Mike Smith out another 4-6 weeks following abdominal surgery, Domingue has emerged as the answer in goal for Arizona.

"He's carried himself very well." Tippett said. "He's worked real hard in practice and in the games he goes out there and does his job; nothing flashy but very solid. Last year he got the experience of being in the NHL. Now he's not in awe, and the last few weeks he's going about his business and working on being a very good player."

The Coyotes have a point in 10 of their past 12 games (7-2-3).

Here are the projected lineups:

PREDATORS

Colin Wilson - Ryan Johansen - James Neal

Filip Forsberg - Mike Ribeiro - Calle Jarnkrok

Miikka Salomaki - Mike Fisher - Craig Smith

Eric Nystrom - Paul Gaustad - Austin Watson

Roman Josi - Shea Weber

Mattias Ekholm - Ryan Ellis

Anthony Bitetto - Barret Jackman

Pekka Rinne

Carter Hutton

Scratched: Viktor Arvidsson, Petter Granberg, Cody Hodgson

Injured: Gabriel Bourque (upper body)

COYOTES

Max Domi - Antoine Vermette - Mikkel Boedker

Tobias Rieder - Martin Hanzal - Anthony Duclair

Jordan Martinook - Brad Richardson - Shane Doan

Kyle Chipchura - Boyd Gordon - Viktor Tikhonov

Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Connor Murphy

Klas Dahlbeck - Zbynek Michalek

Nicklas Grossman - Michael Stone

Louis Domingue

Anders Lindback

Injured: Mike Smith (abdominal surgery), Joe Vitale (fractured orbital bone)

Scratched: Steve Downie, Stefan Elliott, John Scott

Status report: Michalek (lower bory) likely will be in the lineup.

Who's hot: The game matches the top two scoring blue lines in the NHL. Nashville leads the League with 31 goals scored by defensemen and Arizona is second with 27. Ekman-Larsson's 11th goal of the year, against Calgary, marked the 15th time in the past 22 games a Coyotes defenseman scored at least one goal. … James Neal has four goals in his last four games against Arizona, including the game-winner in a 5-2 Predators win in Nashville on Dec. 1.

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