Gameday: Phoenix Coyotes at Nashville Predators, 3/28/13

PHOENIX COYOTES

at NASHVILLE PREDATORS

March 28th, 2013
Bridgestone Arena
Nashville, Tennessee
7:00 p.m. CDT
TV: FOX Sports Tennessee
Season series 1-1

The Nashville Predators enter the final game of their season series with the Phoenix Coyotes on a three-game winning streak. Phoenix, meanwhile, has tumbled out of playoff contention by losing seven in a row. These two teams traded shutouts with one another in their first two games: Phoenix by a 4-0 score in January, and Nashville by a 3-0 score last month.

PHOENIX COYOTES

(13-15-5, 5th in Pacific)

Tonight the Coyotes are without their most important player, goalie Mike Smith, who has already missed three straight games with a head injury. That makes turning their fortunes around an even more difficult task against a streaking Nashville squad.

NHL: Phoenix Coyotes at Los Angeles Kings

Shane Doan has three points in the Coyotes’ seven straight losses. (PHOTO: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Key players

Captain Shane Doan (11G-8A) shares the team points lead with Mikkel Boedker (6G-13A) and Oliver Ekman-Larsson (3G-16A). The veteran’s sporadic scoring of late has cost the team: he has just three points during the Coyotes’ losing streak.

Jason LaBarbera (1-5-1, 2.57 GAA, .918 SV%) has started three consecutive games for Phoenix, including last night’s 4-3 loss in overtime to Minnesota. He may be replaced by Chad Johnson (1-0-1, 0.98, .952), who earned his first NHL shutout against Nashville back in January. Whichever gets the start will have his hands full against a Preds squad that has averaged 3.62 goals over its last eight games.

Others to watch

Former Nashville Predators forward Steve Sullivan

Steve Sullivan will play his 1,000th NHL game back at Bridgestone Arena, the site of so many of his career’s best moments. (PHOTO: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Predator Steve Sullivan (5G-7A) will play in his 1,000th NHL game tonight on what used to be his home ice. Expect a very warm welcome for him.

Keith Yandle (5G-13A) is one of those defensemen who’s generating a lot of interest a the trade deadline. For now he’s still wearing a Phoenix sweater, which is bad news for their opponents.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

(14-13-6, 4th in Central)

The Preds play the last of four straight games at home tonight, hoping to make it four wins in a row against a struggling Phoenix team. The streak has helped to put them back into the middle of the Western Conference playoff race.

NHL: Nashville Predators at Dallas Stars

Fisher is just two games shy of matching his career-high nine-game point streak. (PHOTO: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Key players

Mike Fisher (9G-9A) has been on a tear, putting up four goals and three assists in his last seven games. Reunited with Martin Erat (4G-16A) and Sergei Kostitsyn (3G-10A) on the top line, he’s helped to turned even those two formerly struggling players into valuable contributors of late.

Shea Weber (6G-13A) has gone pointless in two of Nashville’s three consecutive wins, but he still has 18 points in his last 20 games.

Others to watch

Pekka Rinne (13-10-5, 2.31, .911) looked good again on Monday night, stopping 24 of 26 shots against the Oilers. Still, he’s given up at least two goals in every game since the March 14th loss to Vancouver. With the defense beginning to play better in front of him, can he return to his old form tonight?

Roman Josi (5G-10A) went pointless last game against Edmonton, but leading up to that he had put up eight points (2G-6A) in five games to move into a tie for fifth on the team in scoring.

Bottom line

Without Mike Smith, the Phoenix Coyotes aren’t nearly as deadly. Taking him away from the equation makes the Nashville Predators a clear favorite in this game. That counts for exactly nothing, though – just ask last season’s Preds, who were the favorites in their playoff matchup with the Coyotes. Only hard work, combined with either strong goaltending or an offensive outburst, will get the Preds there.

Topics: Nashville Predators, Phoenix Coyotes

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