at PHOENIX COYOTES
January 28th, 2013
8:00 p.m. CST
TV: FOX Sports Tennessee
Tonight’s contest is a meeting between two teams with four losses each in five games. Only one of them has picked up points in three of those losses, though. (Sorry, no bonus points for guessing that I’m talking about Nashville.)
(1-4-0, 5th in Pacific)
Last year’s playoff run to the Western Conference Finals was an all-time high for the Phoenix Coyotes, who had never won a playoff series dating all the way back to their days as the Winnipeg Jets. This year hasn’t been as kind to them. Like Nashville, defense is their calling card, but they’ve been unable to keep opponents from scoring. They’re currently without the services of goalie Mike Smith, whose performance drove them past the Preds in last year’s Western Conference Semifinal.
Steve Sullivan already has one hat trick this season. (PHOTO: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)
Well, here’s a familiar face. Nashville Predators fans will remember the hat trick Steve Sullivan’s debut for a very long time. Though it didn’t come in his first game as a Coyote, Sullivan (4G-1A) repeated the feat in his third one. The ageless winger is still fast and hard for defenses to contain.
It looks like goalie Chad Johnson will see his first duty as a Phoenix Coyote. Johnson has only played six previous games in the NHL, all of them with the New York Rangers. He won just one of those games and posted a 2.59 GAA and .911 SV%. He’s been comparable to those numbers in the AHL this season, posting a a 2.80 GAA and .912 SV% in 24 games this year in the AHL. He’ll be looking to repeat NHL newcomer Viktor Fasth‘s triumph over the Preds. The scoop on him:
Last year was a career season for Radim Vrbata. (PHOTO: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)
Radim Vrbata (2G-3A) is the Coyotes’ other primary scoring threat in the early going. Last season, his 12th in the NHL, saw the 31-year-old Czech forward post career highs in goals (35) and points (62). Nashville’s defense has gone soft at bad times this year, and Vrbata is the kind of player who can take advantage of openings before you even realize they’re there.
Others to watch
Now in his seventh season with Phoenix, Keith Yandle is the team’s top defenseman. He’s one of just three players on the roster with a positive plus/minus rating at the moment, and with only two assists to his credit he hasn’t started scoring the he can yet.
Still just 21 years old, Oliver Ekman-Larsson is a dangerous presence on the blue line. He’s durable, too. He played all 82 games last year for the Coyotes and put up 32 points in the process. Nashville held him to just one assist during their playoff series and will need to keep him similarly quiet tonight.
(1-1-3, 3rd in Central)
Nashville has collected points in four of its five games this season yet won only once. With a key injury befalling the team’s top six two nights ago, tonight’s lineup will see some changes.
Nashville Predators fans are still waiting for Weber’s first goal of the season. (PHOTO: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports)
Shea Weber was fourth on the entire team in scoring last year, but he’s been a non-factor on Nashville’s offense so far this season. It’s not that Weber hasn’t been putting forth the effort to score. His 12 shots are second on club only to Patric Hornqvist, suggesting it’s just a matter of time before he finally puts a puck in the net. But with Hornqvist out indefinitely, Nashville has lost the only player who shoots more than Weber. If the team wants to avenge last season’s playoff loss, Weber is the man the other players will look to.
Chris Mason was in goal for the Preds’ only win of the season so far. If he gets the start again tonight, he’ll need to display the same kind of form he had in Minnesota. The coaching staff could still decide to go with Pekka Rinne, who has posted much better numbers than other goalies on teams with similar records to Nashville and would have still two days of rest before the next game. Whoever is in net will be tasked with slowing down a Coyotes team that’s averaging 3.4 goals per game.
Are we about to see a Legwand resurgence? The team could use one. (PHOTO: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)
Others to watch
One of the three players who scored more than Weber last season was David Legwand. He’s picked up two goals now after a slow start, but one of them was a meaningless power-play marker at the very end of the Minnesota game. The question is whether he’s beginning to heat up. The Nashville offense could use a dose of Legwand right now.
Colin Wilson moved up to the top line with Mike Fisher and Martin Erat for the last game against Anaheim. While he isn’t a big bruiser, he does add a physical presence that the line was lacking with Sergei Kostitsyn on the left. These three showed flashes of excellence last game, giving Preds fans hope that Wilson can step up to the task of sparking a lackluster Nashville offense.
Speaking of Sergei Kostitsyn, he was Patric Hornqvist’s replacement on the second line in today’s practice. He’ll be lining up alongside Legwand and Gabriel Bourque, which gives that line a new dynamic. Sergei has been invisible on offense since the season opener and needs to find that KHL All-Star groove he had with Avangard Omsk.
Somebody is going to pick up their second win of the season in this game. Can Nashville save its fans the indignity of watching them go to a shootout for the fourth time in this young season? Will the Preds’ defense shut down all of the Coyotes’ weapons? Or will the Coyotes pull another one over on Nashville? What do you think?