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Game Day Blog: Preds vs. Phoenix Coyotes

by Tom Callahan / Nashville Predators
Nashville Predators vs. Phoenix Coyotes Game Preview

7 pm CST
Radio: The Zone, Predators Radio Network

The Phoenix Coyotes hit a milepost or two in recent days, including becoming the fastest iteration of the franchise to hit 33 wins. They’re on a four-game win streak that started with a fantastic come-from-behind win against the Detroit Red Wings when they scored twice in the final 1:31 of regulation to force OT and then won it there. Shane Doan has jumped off his own personal slide and has 15 points in his last eight games. And Ilya Bryzgalov has been nothing short of solid and given his team a chance to win every single night.

That said, Nashville had the Coyotes down in their own barn after two periods when these clubs met last. Scottie Upshall (now gone due to a torn ACL) loaded the ‘Yotes on his shoulders and produced a third period hat trick for the win. But there’s no stopping to weep or wondering what to do with him gone from the lineup, this team has to keep going. Peter Mueller stepped in and performed well in Upshall’s absence in Dallas after being a healthy scratch the previous game against the Rangers.

The Predators will surely want to go back to what worked in the first two periods of that game, and of course against Atlanta to break the skid at home last Saturday. Get pucks and bodies to the net, cause a commotion, and out of said ruckus score some goals. Grinding is not pretty, but it is effective. You wear down the other team, you lean hard on them and make them winded, and surely you can find victories with a solid effort in your own end.

Nashville has had some problems as of late with the penalty kill, notably against Detroit. Of course the team is working to shore up the problems, and hopefully the return of Marcel Goc will provide more of a kick in that department. Also, if you can get a goaltender who makes big saves at the right time, power play goals are harder to come by. Fortunately or not, there’s not a single finger to be pointed at special teams play, but that means everyone has to work that much harder to succeed.

Finally, look out for Keith Yandle and the defensive corps. He’s begun to jump into the rush with more regularity, and the Coyotes have received a league-leading 34 goals from the blueline. As for Yandle, his 29 points is one shy of a career high after recording a goal against Dallas last game.

- Phoenix is 15 games over .500 for the first time since February 14, 1999 heading into tonight.
- The Coyotes have scored the first goal 30 times this year, and are an NHL-best 26-2-2 when they do. Nashville is second in this category, notching the opening tally 24 times and going 20-3-1.
- Shane Doan was named NHL Player of the Week for posting nine points in four games last week, scoring in three of them. At 18 goals, he needs just two more for his 10th consecutive 20-goal season.
- Marcel Goc is expected back for the Predators tonight, but Wade Belak is not.

Callahan’s Keys:
- Both teams are good five-on-five clubs, and Nashville has to pressure the Coyotes’ defense. Knowing that they may jump into the rush, any neutral zone turnovers can lead to odd-man situations in transition – something the Predators would need to capitalize on.
- Bother Bryzgalov. Hey, if he can’t see the puck, he’s probably not going to stop it. Bodies in front of the net produce results, and Patric Hornqvist has shown what paying the price can do for your goal total.
- Power play movement. Let’s face it, teams are going to take away Shea Weber. They know there’s a cannon back there and want no part of it. That said, the Preds have had good net presence lately, it’s just a matter of getting pucks into those areas. The five-on-three against Atlanta was a great example of getting stymied along the wall. The Predators didn’t move the puck with much success and were confined to the wings, which was just fine with the Thrashers PK. To be effective those players need to generate offense, keep their feet moving and try to get shots through. On the other hand, the other four guys on the ice also need to keep moving, providing a target for a pass. If one guy is stuck going up and down the wall, and you the fan are yelling at him, stop. Look at the other four guys on the ice. If they’re not getting open, it’s like a QB with all day in the pocket but no open receivers. His only option is to tuck it down and run, and that seldom results in a good gain.
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