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Surging Coyotes welcome Predators to the desert

by Tal Pinchevsky

PREDATORS (5-4-2) at COYOTES (6-3-2)


Last 10:
Nashville 4-4-2; Phoenix 5-3-2

Season Series:
This is the second of four meetings between these teams. In their first meeting on Oct. 13, Phoenix came into Bridgestone Arena and scored the game's first four goals. Nashville responded with two of their own, but Shane Doan's empty-netter sealed a 5-2 Phoenix win. The teams split their four matchups last season.

Big Story: While it's early in the season, the Predators already find themselves on a season-long five-game road swing. While Nashville started the trip with an overtime loss in Chicago, the Coyotes have won four of their last five games, including a 4-1 victory at Colorado on Wednesday

Team Scope:

Predators: Following a 2-1-0 homestand against three playoff teams - San Jose, Tampa Bay, and Anaheim - the Predators were in Chicago on Monday to start the first of two season-long five-game road trips. The Preds held and lost three separate one-goal leads against the Blackhawks before Bryan Bickell gave Chicago a late 4-3 lead. David Legwand tied the game less than a minute after Bickell's go-ahead marker, but Viktor Stalberg gave Chicago a 5-4 win in overtime.

Goaltender Pekka Rinne allowed Nashville to salvage a point in a game in which Chicago outshot the Predators 21-8 in the third period and overtime. While the Preds had trouble closing out the game, they've had no trouble getting off to a fast start, with Patric Hornqvist scoring in the first 30 seconds of Nashville's last two games. Considering Nashville was missing two of its best offensive players - Sergei Kostitsyn and Mike Fisher - the four goals was an impressive outburst for an offensive that ranked 21st in the League last season.

Coyotes: Following a stretch in which they lost three of four, the Coyotes rattled off their third straight win Wednesday night in Colorado, as Mike Smith stopped 39 of 40 shots and Radim Vrbata scored twice. It was an efficient performance for Phoenix, who visited Colorado following a three-game homestand in which they earned five out of a potential six points.

The most surprising aspect of the Coyotes current three-game run has been the team's reliance on both offense and defense. Never considered a high-scoring bunch under coach Dave Tippett, the Coyotes have scored 12 goals over the course of their win streak. In doing so, they've established an offense that now ranks fifth in the NHL in goals per game.

If few people expected the 2011-12 Coyotes to rely on a high-flying offense, no one expected goaltender Smith to hold the fort defensively. Following the exodus of All-Star goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov over the summer, Smith was shelled for six goals on 52 shots in a season-opening 6-3 loss in San Jose. But since that disastrous opener, Smith has been superb. He has made at least 31 saves in each of his last four games and boasts a 4-0-1 record in his last five games with a .934 save percentage.

Who's Hot: Legwand, Nashville's leading scorer, has broken out of a five-game pointless streak with three points in his last two games. Hornqvist has four goals in his last three games while rookie Craig Smith has five points in his last five games. … For Phoenix, Vrbata back-to-back two-goal games and seven points in his last three. At age 39, Ray Whitney has shown no signs of slowing down with seven points in his last five games.

Injury Report:
Kostitsyn (leg) and Fisher (upper body) are both questionable for the Predators while Nick Spaling is on IR with a lower body injury. … For the Coyotes, defenseman Michal Rozsival (facial injury) are on IR.

Stat Pack: With his goal 26 seconds into the game against Chicago and 14 seconds into a 3-0 win on Saturday over Anaheim, Hornqvist joined some impressive company. He became only the second player in history, after Pavel Bure, to score in the first 30 seconds of consecutive games.

Puck Drop:
In an interesting twist of fate, the Coyotes' newest player could make his Phoenix debut against his former team. Center Cal O'Reilly was acquired from the Predators on Friday and while he is still nursing a groin injury, he could be back in the lineup against the team that selected him in the fifth round of the 2005 NHL Draft. He hoped to make his Coyotes debut in Colorado against his younger brother Ryan, but sat out due to the injury.

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