Nashville Predators vs. Phoenix Coyotes
Bridgestone Arena, 7 pm CST
TV: Fox Sports Tennessee | Radio: 104.5 The Zone, Predators Radio Network
Two of the NHL’s biggest surprises hit the ice tonight when Phoenix and Nashville lock horns for the third of four meetings between the two this year. At 97 points, the Coyotes are just one point back of San Jose for the Pacific Division lead and two away from Chicago, the Western Conference overall leader. To say most people are surprised by the Coyotes might be an understatement, considering that they were picked to finish dead-last by many prognosticators. The job Dave Tippet has done in the desert definitely should merit consideration for Coach of the Year.
That said, the Coyotes have done what they’ve done on the basis of team play. Not one of their players ranks in the top 10 or even 25 of any offensive category. Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov is among the top ten in many stats and leads the league in shutouts, but otherwise you could be forgiven for not recognizing too many names on this club. Even the trade deadline acquisitions didn’t look all that incredible on paper, yet have really served to solidify and deepen an already talented club.
On Nashville’s end, the Preds have to get back to what won them games: playing with heart, intelligence, and urgency. There needs to be a will to win and a foot firmly on the gas pedal against the Coyotes tonight, otherwise a patient Phoenix team can pick them apart. Have a listen to my chat from this morning with Barry Trotz. You can clearly hear what he expects to get out of his team tonight and for the remainder of the regular season. Even before we rolled the tape, he called all eight remaining games “playoff games. Until we’re actually in the post-season, we need to treat all of these like the playoffs.”Notes:
Keys to the Game
- Only the Florida Panthers (8 seasons) have a longer post-season drought than the Coyotes and L.A. Kings (6 seasons). The latter seemed destined to end that stretch this year, while Florida extends its streak.
- Calgary’s Jay Bouwmeester has played the most career games without seeing the post-season at 544 heading into tonight, but Phoenix’s Zbynek Michalek is sixth on that list at 408.
- Former Predators forward Vernon Fiddler figures in pretty mightily when he scores. The Coyotes are 20-1-1 when he has at least a point, and have won 13 in a row when Fids tallies.
- Jason Arnott can tie Jarome Iginla if he hits the 20-goal plateau this year with an 11-year streak, the longest of any active players. Iginla has already topped the mark for 2010-11, while Arnott is sitting on 18 goals and 10 years.
- 60 minutes of effort. You simply cannot ease into a game against the Coyotes and expect to win. Heck, even the Dallas Stars were able to beat a good but incomplete effort. Now is the time to leave it all out there.
- Strong forecheck. The Predators need to get into the Phoenix zone with speed and pursue the puck hard. Cause some miscues, pounce on turnovers, and score a few with elbow grease.
- Strong team defense. As I pointed out above, there’s no standout offensive player. That makes all four lines dangerous for the Coyotes, and the Preds need to be aware at all times.