The Phoenix Coyotes hope to get off to a better start in order to avoid losing a third consecutive game and pull into a tie for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. A home matchup with the Nashville Predators on Sunday could help them do just that.
The Coyotes (28-23-4) are coming off a lackluster 2-1 loss to Columbus Thursday, which followed a 4-3 shootout defeat at Calgary on Tuesday. Ilya Bryzgalov allowed two goals on the Blue Jackets' first seven shots, and Phoenix's rally fell short as it lost for the fourth time in five games (1-2-2), including a 3-2 overtime defeat at Nashville on Feb. 2.
Poor starts have been a problem for the Coyotes, who have given up the first goal in five of their last six games.
"It just seems like we keep digging ourselves in holes now at home, and that's not good," Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky said. "We need to figure out a way to come out quicker and get ahead."
Despite Phoenix's struggles, the team is tied with Columbus for 10th in the West, two points behind the eighth-place Predators (28-22-6) and one back of Vancouver. The Blue Jackets host league-worst Los Angeles, while the Canucks face Chicago on Sunday.
The Coyotes also look to extend their home winning streak over Nashville to five games. They have won the last four matchups at Jobing.com Arena, the last three coming by one-goal margins. Phoenix hasn't lost there to the Preds since a 5-4 shootout defeat on Oct. 13, 2005.
Phoenix could use some better play from Bryzgalov, who has been shaky recently. The goaltender has lost his last four starts (0-2-2) with a 2.68 goals-against average after winning three games in a row. He has split his last two starts against Nashville, allowing three goals in each meeting.
Bryzgalov lost the last matchup on Feb. 2 after making 35 saves, but he allowed a goal to Alexander Radulov with 50 seconds left in overtime.
Gretzky will have some help on the bench as associate head coach Rick Tocchet is expected to be back after an absence of two years while he dealt with legal issues surrounding his involvement with illegal gambling. The time away was a combination of a leave of absence and a suspension by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
Tocchet took a leave of absence since being charged in February 2006. He was sentenced last August to two years' probation after pleading guilty to promoting gambling and conspiracy to promote gambling.
"I am extremely happy that Rick will finally be returning to the Coyotes," Gretzky said. "With this episode behind us we can now all move on and concentrate on the great game of hockey, and working to make the Phoenix Coyotes a playoff team."
Nashville, meanwhile, is also looking to avoid a third consecutive defeat after losing 4-3 to San Jose on Saturday. It was just the fourth time in 19 games the Predators failed to get a point.
"We have to find more ways to get to the net," said Predators left wing Vernon Fiddler, who had two goals and an assist. "We had enough goals; we just made a couple of mistakes."
The Predators hope Jason Arnott, their leading scorer with 48 points, can get back on track after seeing his season-high 10-game point streak come to an end Saturday. The veteran center has recorded a point in each of his last nine contests against Phoenix, totaling four goals and 10 assists.