The Nashville Predators are set to close out their five-game road trip tonight in Arizona when they face the Coyotes at Gila River Arena. The Preds are hoping to end the trip with a .500 record, and they have a chance to do so, thanks to a 5-1 win on Tuesday at Colorado, their first victory of the trip.
"We have to move forward, and this is a good team," Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "They're probably in the same boat we're in, thinking they have to win a hockey game and push their way back to .500, so we expect it's going to be a good game; they have good, young talent. It was a good win at the time [in Colorado] because it pushed us closer to some place we want to get to, and now we have to make sure we follow it up."
With two assists against the Avalanche on Tuesday, Filip Forsberg took the team lead in scoring with seven points in nine games, all of them helpers, as the Preds bumped their record to 3-5-1. Viktor Arvidsson (4g-2a), Roman Josi (2g-4a) and Ryan Johansen (1g-5a) each have six points to their credit; Arvidsson and Craig Smith lead the Preds with four goals apiece. Pekka Rinne is 2-4-1 in seven starts this season.
Arizona is coming off of a 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night, moving their record to 3-6-0. Brad Richardson leads the Coyotes in scoring with eight points, including four goals. Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson paces the team with five goals and Radim Vrbata has tallied four times. Louis Domingue is expected to get the start tonight against the Preds; he's 2-5-0 on the season.
Video: The Predators conclude their road trip in Arizona
By this time tomorrow, the Predators will have touched down in Nashville for the first time in 10 days, and with a solid effort tonight in Arizona, they could do so with an extra couple of points in tow. For a road trip that started less than ideally in Anaheim, the Preds enter tonight's contest feeling confident in their ability to perform similarly to their 5-1 win in Colorado on Tuesday.
According to Preds winger Craig Smith, much of that comes from the attitude in the locker room, even when things seemed bleak from an outside perspective.
"The mood hasn't changed in the last four or five games," Smith said. "I think we've focused on our skating ability and our physicality, and that's brought us more turnovers and some more shots on net. Ultimately, I think some of our rush game has gotten a little bit better; we're a little bit smarter."
Nashville wants nothing more than to replicate their previous effort, and now that they've win via a strong effort, the sense is a second victory isn't far behind.
"Just playing with a lead, that was huge. It's a lot easier playing with the lead than trailing," Smith said. "We played a complete game, and I thought our energy levels and our preparation before the game were pretty high. Guys were pretty juiced up, and we need to bring that same mentality for tonight and have some fun in the desert. That's about it."
Preds center Mike Ribeiro took part in an optional morning skate after taking a maintenance day yesterday. Captain Mike Fisher did not skate this morning and remains day-to-day with an upper-body injury. The Coyotes will be without Martin Hanzal and Michael Stone tonight due to injury; Tobias Rieder is questionable to play against the Preds.
Before they come back home, here are three things to watch as the Preds dance in the desert.
Keep The Car Running:
After going 0-2-1 through the first three games of their current road trip, the Preds have given themselves a chance to go home with an even record and a two-game win streak. But in order for that to happen, they'll have to play another full, 60-minute effort like they did in Colorado as opposed to earlier in the trip. The potential to come back to Tennessee having won two in a row appetizing.
"We know we didn't play our best in the first few games of the road trip, but like everything, it's the past and it's all about what we do moving forward," center Ryan Johansen said. "We have something to build off with our game in Colorado, and if we can win this one here in Phoenix, it would be a great feeling to go back home and play in front of our fans for a little bit."
Fil the Net:
On Saturday, it was James Neal who got his first of the season. Ryan Johansen tallied his first on Tuesday. As the Preds offensive guns start to get going, Filip Forsberg could be next. Forsberg's seven assists lead the club, but he's still searching for his first of the season after scoring 33 in 2015-16.
But Forsberg is getting his chances, and he'll face an opponent tonight that he's had success against before. Forsberg tallied five points (3g-2a) in three games against Arizona last season and has seven points in six career games versus the Coyotes.
"We've been taking steps in the right direction, and as I said yesterday after the game that was probably the best 60-minute effort we had this year," Forsberg said. "Hopefully we can build on that."
Who Wants It More:
The Coyotes sit last in the NHL standings, just one point behind the Preds. At this moment in the season, both teams are undoubtedly eager to prove they have more to give, and with the two coming off of uplifting wins in their last outing, confidence is high. So will the Yotes find their game at home? Or can the Preds end the trip with a complete-180 of how it began?
"A .500 road trip is not what we set out for it to be, but if we can salvage that, we'll be reasonably happy with that," defenseman Matt Irwin said. "It's a tough road trip to go through California and into Colorado and finish off five games. It's a long trip, and that's the best we can do is go .500, so if we can do that, we'll be happy."
Take It In:
Tonight's 9 p.m. (CT) puck drop can be seen on Fox Sports Tennessee, with the Predators Live! Pregame show beginning at 8:30 with Willy Daunic, Stu Grimson and Lyndsay Rowley. Radio broadcasters Pete Weber and Brent Peterson will have the call on 102.5 The Game and the Predators Radio Network.