USA TODAY Sports
The Coyotes seek to complete a three-game road trip sweep as they travel into Bridgestone Arena to face the Predators in a Valentine's Day affair that is unlikely to include many fireworks.
Whenever Dave Tippet's Phoenix Coyotes meet up with the Barry Trotz's Nashville Predators, fans of defensive hockey are able to (usually) rejoice. Those fans that prefer the run-and-gun style of the 80s generally look for another game to turn on. The Coyotes and Predators share a number of similarities, most notably a strong goaltender and defensive core and limited offensive depth.
For the Desert Dogs, they are coming off of a two day rest after they squeaked out an undeserved overtime win in Colorado on the back of a two goal game from Shane Doan, and a two-point, one fight game for Kyle Chipchura, as well as a 41 save effort from goaltender Mike Smith. The Predators are coming off their own overtime victory over a reeling San Jose squad that saw the lone goal scored by Colin Wilson as Pekka Rinne posted his second shutout in his last four games. For the Preds, Wilson's goal snapped a streak of over 176 minutes where the team had failed to score a goal, nearly 9 full periods worth of hockey.
Nashville is currently 2 points ahead of the Coyotes in the early standings, but both teams currently have similar goal differentials (even for Phoenix, -1 for Nashville), and this Western Conference Semifinals rematch should be a good game as the Coyotes make their first trip to Nashville since their victory in game 4 last spring.
Five For Winning
1. Keep the Momentum Going. With the exception of the clunker of a game against the Hawks, the Coyotes are on a bit of a roll, going 5-1-2 over their last 8 games, a streak that started with a 4-0 victory over these Predators at Jobing.com Arena. If the 'Yotes want to repeat as Pacific Division Champs, they need to continue to accumulate points 2 at a time.
2. Stay Disciplined. The Coyotes are best when they are rolling all four lines out there and not in a special teams battle (despite the gaudy--for them--power play conversion this year). They've been better recently, but Steve Sullivan took yet another unsportsmanlike penalty in Colorado and they need to cut that out.
3. Play for 60; Focus. It's the last day of the longest road trip of the season, thus far, and players will start to think about what they need/want to do when they get back to Phoenix (see their wives/kids/dogs/cats/horses/etc.). In addition, at least the broadcast team was out watching the U.S. Women's National soccer team play Scotland last night and I wouldn't be surprised if some of the players went as well. The Coyotes need to finish periods strong and make sure they don't get victimized late in the game and give away precious points.
4. Don't Wake Up the Preds. As I mentioned earlier, the Preds just snapped a 176+ minute scoreless drought; no need to have them putting in that week's worth of goals all at once at our expense.
5. Crash the Net. A goalie like Rinne isn't easily beaten by shots flipped at them from sharp angles along the boards, no matter how awesome said shooter is. The Coyotes are going to need to be in the dirty areas and be looking to tip point shots or put in rebounds if they are going to have success.
Players to Watch
Doaner snapped a 12-game long scoring slump with his two goal game in Colorado. He's always been a bit of a streaky scorer, so here's hoping that he's about to go on a bit of a tear.
The 23-year old center is leading the Preds with 8 points, and has 6 of them in the last 5 games. There's a reason that he seems to be among the favorites of the Nashville faithful.
Likely Starting Goalies
Both Trotz and Tippett generally prefer to play their starters, as evidenced by the fact that Smith has started every game he's been healthy for and Rinne has only missed two games and both involved back-to-back nights for the Preds.
Matthew Lombardi (upper body)
David Schlemko (upper body)
Patric Hornqvist (knee)