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Coyotes could be thin on blue line vs. Predators

by Jerry Brown
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The NHL is handing out suspensions as quickly as it can, but the Phoenix Coyotes are running out of defensemen in a hurry.

Just three days after the Coyotes lost Ed Jovanovski on a hit that cost Toronto's Mike Brown a three-game suspension, blueliner David Schlemko left Monday's 4-2 loss to San Jose with a head injury after a hit by Scott Nichol of the Sharks. Tuesday, the NHL suspended Nichol for four games.

The Coyotes aren't certain if Jovanovski or Schlemko will be available for tonight's big game with Nashville at Arena. And Michal Rozsival still hasn't suited up for a game with Phoenix since being acquired from the Rangers eight days ago because of a lingering pulled muscle in the ribcage area.

Phoenix recalled defenseman Chris Summers from San Antonio of the American Hockey League. If none of the three injured Coyotes are able to play, the 2006 first-round pick will make his NHL debut against the Predators.

Despite scoring 19 times during a four game-winning streak and seeing a strong uptick in scoring during a 6-0-2 start to January, the Coyotes know they won't be confused with the 1980s Oilers when it comes to offensive firepower.

Defense and goaltending is still the name of the game for the Coyotes, and having three of their defensemen out of the lineup will be a tall order in this important game. Phoenix held on to fourth place in the Western Conference after Monday's loss, but Nashville, Chicago and Anaheim are all right behind them with 54 points each.

The Coyotes got goals from two other defensemen -- Derek Morris and rookie Oliver Ekman-Larsson -- to account for all their scoring against San Jose. Ekman-Larsson's goal was the first of his NHL career after a series of close calls and was the bright spot of an otherwise frustrating day, as Phoenix hit the post three times and failed on four power-play chances against San Jose goalie Antti Niemi.

"The guys were really happy for him because he's a young guy and a good guy in the locker room," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "When you do get that first one -- and he's kind of been around it a few times and hit a couple posts, so I think he's been taking some pretty good ribbing in the room. So it'll be good to get that one behind him and move on."

The power play, which hadn't been producing even while the Coyotes were winning and scoring consistently, now has collected just two goals in the last 34 chances (5.8 percent) over the last nine games.

And every goal counts against Nashville, which allows just 2.34 goals a game -- third-best in the NHL -- and kills 85.3 percent of its penalties, fifth-best in the league, behind the brilliant play of goalie Pekka Rinne. Barry Trotz and the Predator coaching staff had the benefit of watching Monday's San Jose-Phoenix game from the press box.
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