PREDATORS (5-2-3) at COYOTES (3-4-3)
TV: FS-TN (HD)
First of four meetings. Phoenix won three of the four matchups on the 2009-10 slate, with each side prevailing once in a shootout. The highlight of the season series came on Feb. 2 when Ilya Bryzgalov and Pekka Rinne
battled to a scoreless deadlock through 65 minutes and Adrian Aucoin
finally lifted the Coyotes to a 1-0 win by scoring in the 10th round of the penalty-shot tiebreaker. Scottie Upshall led all goal scorers by registering a hat trick in Phoenix's 4-2 win on Jan. 21.
A loss in Detroit on Saturday night was Nashville's first on the road this season after opening with three wins. As it stands, the Predators will play before their home fans at Bridgestone Arena just once between now and a Nov. 24 date with the Blues. The game against the Red Wings marked the beginning of a stretch where they play 9 of 10 games on the road.
"It's just keeping it simple and not over-thinking plays," Predators forward Joel Ward told the Tennessean. "It's just doing the small things and getting pucks in and pucks out, which is key. If you can eliminate chances you have a better chance of winning on the road, and that's what we've prided on a little bit."
For the first time this season, Nashville yielded more than four goals in a game with its 5-2 setback to Detroit on Saturday. Even with Rinne missing some time early in the season due to injury, the Predators are tied for 11th in the NHL with a 2.50 team goals-against average. After the Red Wings jumped out to a 2-0 lead after one period, Ward scored in the second to cut the deficit in half. But the Predators allowed three more goals before getting a Kevin Klein
score midway through the third.
"To play well the whole period and then to give up a goal in the last 3-to-4 minutes is a real letdown," Klein said, referencing the fact Detroit scored near the end of both the first and second periods.
All the hope and good feelings generated from a 4-2 win in Detroit last Thursday were quickly doused when Phoenix returned home and got shut out by Tampa Bay 3-0 on Saturday. The Coyotes' average of 2.3 goals per game is tied for second-worst in the League and coach Dave Tippett lamented the fact Shane Doan
, Ray Whitney
and Wojtek Wolski are still seeking their first goals of the season.
"We have a lot of players that stats-wise can contribute a lot more," Tippett said. "If you look at our top forwards we have no goals from Doan, no goals from Wolski and no goals from Whitney. These are people we rely on for skill. At some point we need to have them contribute and the first 10 games -- we don’t have anything."
Both clubs have received consistently stellar efforts from their goaltenders -- Rinne ranks seventh in the League with a .928 save percentage, his backup, Anders Lindback
, is tied for ninth at .925 and Bryzgalov ranks 13th at .922.
Matthew Lombardi, who played 97 games for the Coyotes over the previous two seasons, is one of four Predators currently on injured reserve. He's recovering from a concussion. Also sidelined are Marcel Goc (separated shoulder) and Ryan Suter
(leg). … Martin Hanzal
, who has missed the last six games for the Coyotes with a lower-body injury, is expected to be activated from injured reserve for this game, while Derek Morris
(lower body) is day-to-day.
Overtime hasn't been kind to either team this season -- they're a combined 0-6 in games decided during the extra five-minute period. Nashville lost three straight at home in such fashion to Washington, Calgary and Pittsburgh, while Phoenix fell in OT to Detroit, Carolina and Montreal in a stretch of five games.
"I think we've got to go back to basic stuff like we did last year when everybody played hard and we were rolling," Hanzal said. "I think we have to go hard to the net and get some shots. I think if we do that we're going to start to win again."