There are only three games left in the regular season. Thanks to some timely help from Tuesday's opponent, the Coyotes find themselves back squarely in control of their playoff destiny. Win the remaining three games and they are in. Of course, given the fact that the Yotes haven't been able to win a game since March 27th, that's easier said than done. Especially against a Nashville team that has got nothing to lose and has been more than generous in helping Dallas' playoff aspirations.
Matchup at a Glance
|Goals per game||2.61 (19th)||2.51 (21st)|
|Goals allowed per game||2.76 (19th)||2.85 (22nd)|
|Power play %||20.4 (4th)||18.7 (12th)|
|Penalty kill %||79.6 (26th)||80.0 (25th)|
Nashville has seen its season play out very similar to Phoenix's. Its leading scorer is a defenseman, they've been surprisingly effective with the man advantage, but have struggled to kill penalties. The strength of their team, defense and goaltending, has let them down far more than expected. One major difference is that Phoenix finds itself entering tonight's contest with playoff hopes dancing in their heads while Nashville saw its own dreams vanish awhile ago.
The Perds have actually played pretty good hockey recently, something the Coyotes wish they could say as well. Nashville has won three of its last four games and earned points in seven of eight, going 5-1-2 in that time.
They are led by perennial Norris Trophy candidate Shea Weber, who tops the team in goals (21), assists (32), points (53) and name recognition. The Perds do have other players though, including three 20-goal forwards in the underrated Patric Hornqvist, young buck Craig Smith and Mr. Carrie Underwood, aka Mike Fisher.
Usual standout netminder Pekka Rinne has seen his season marred by injury and inconsistency. He's lost three of his last four starts. Two of those losses came at the hands of the team the Coyotes are chasing for the final playoff berth, including a seven goal nightmare on March 28th in Dallas.
Considering that Nashville didn't have Rinne from December through March, they don't have a 50-point forward, and that they traded away the first player in team history at the trade deadline, the fact that they will finish 10th in the brutal Western Conference is a testament to their resiliency and fortitude. The Yotes would be wise to enter play tonight expecting a battle, not a sleeping kitty.
The Coyotes enter tonight's game having lost five straight games. The only good news to come out of that is three of those losses came during some extra hockey, so they at least managed to pick up a few loser points in the process and somehow find themselves controlling their own playoff fate. To make the playoffs, the Coyotes may want to think about scoring some goals. They have only managed seven goals during the losing streak, and since March 1st, are only scoring 2.37 goals per game.
Another interesting nugget is that it is Martin Erat's return to Nashville after playing there for more than a decade. Will the fans cheer him for his accomplishments there or will they boo him for wanting out of town in 2013?
Keys to the Game
- Defensive responsibility. Although Nashville's playoff hopes are done, they aren't folding up their tents in the home stretch. In fact, at least one Predator player has scored two goals in each of their last four games and five of their last six. The aforementioned Hornqvist has achieved this twice, against the Capitals on March 30th and in a road shutout of San Jose on Saturday.
- Score. The Coyotes need goals and Nashville has been prone to giving them up in bunches this season. With the playoffs firmly in their own destiny, the Yotes need to prove they deserve to make it.
- Win. Gotta have these two points, no arguments, no doubts, no excuses. It would be nice if the Coyotes could find a way to beat a team below them in the standings for once.
Player to Watch
|2013 - Oliver Ekman-Larsson||15||29||44||-2||48|
While many Coyotes have played poorly to end the season and few have stepped up their game when the chips have been down, Oliver Ekman-Larsson has been brilliant down the stretch. He scored a season-saving goal with 14 seconds left against Columbus Tuesday night, salvaging a point for the Coyotes in the process.
Since struggling in the 11 games before the Olympic break (only two goals and one assist in that time frame), the Swedish Wunderkind has been electric. He has seven goals and eight assists in 20 games since the break, and hasn't gone more than two games in a row without a point. Oh yeah, he's also doing it while averaging over 28 minutes a game.
The team may be playing below its standards, but OEL has been fantastic and if nothing else, Coyotes fans should be grateful that we get to watch him on a nightly basis. Also, he hasn't even hit his prime yet. Yeah, he can still get better. Just remember that.
Likely Starting Goaltender
Thomas Greiss will once again man the crease for the Coyotes. Greiss has given the team more than enough solid hockey to help them win since Mike Smith went down with injury, but his season may be remembered in infamy for two big blunders down the stretch. He should never have left the net in the final minute against the Oilers and should have easily gloved Blake Comeau's shot in the third period Tuesday night. Unfortunately, he did leave the net and his hand/eye coordination failed him in Columbus and the Coyotes need him to rebound with another stellar performance. Or they could just give him some actual offense and play better in front of him so they don't need their freaking backup goalie to provide herculean effort after herculean effort to win games. Either or. Whatever works.
The Coyotes will once again be without the services of David Schlemko (lower body) and Mike Smith (knee) tonight. Smith has been working out, but it doesn't make sense to rush him back and have him at less than 100 percent. Martin Hanzal is questionable with a lower-body injury that did cause him to miss the Blue Jackets game.
It's the final road game of the season, and with it, the final odd start time. The opening face-off is scheduled for 5 p.m. Arizona time and the game can be watched on FSAZ or heard on KMVP 860 AM.