The Nashville Predators are in the thick of the playoff race, while the Arizona Coyotes are playing for pride in their final 11 games of the season, but that doesn’t mean the Predators can take anything for granted when the two teams meet on Monday night in Nashville.
The two teams have met twice previously this season, both times in Glendale, and the Coyotes (26-36-9) have prevailed in both: A 3-2 shootout win on Nov. 3 and a 4-1 victory on Dec. 10. The Coyotes last swept a season series from the Predators in 2010.
“We might not be in a playoff run, but the end of the season matters going forward here,” defenseman Alex Goligoski told ArizonaCoyotes.com. “As an organization, we want to set the tone and have kind of a standard to live up to.”
Arizona, opening a five-game Eastern road trip, is coming off a 3-0 loss at home on Saturday night to St. Louis. The result didn’t sit well with coach Dave Tippett, largely because the Coyotes no-showed in the first period, managing just three shots on net.
“We were so poor in the first period,” he said. “It was maddening to say the least. We had some guys trying but the ability to get in a battle and wanting to get in a battle to allow you to play in the offensive zone or clear your own zone, there were just not enough guys that were engaged in that.
“When you don’t do that, the whole game is whizzing by you.”
That’s how Predators coach Peter Laviolette felt about Nashville’s effort in a 4-2 loss to struggling Carolina on Saturday. The Hurricanes outshot Nashville 37-29, won 55 percent of the faceoffs and led 2-0 nine minutes into the match, forcing the Predators (35-25-11) into chase mode throughout.
“They were quicker than us, they were harder in the areas than we were, they got themselves a lead and they made it difficult to generate offense,” he said. “Their speed was a factor. We didn’t play as fast as they did. They were able to get a lead and stay on it.”
The result dropped Nashville into a third-place tie in the Central Division with St. Louis. The Blues own the tiebreaker since they have more wins, so the Predators will enter Monday night’s game as the Western Conference’s second wild-card, six points ahead of Los Angeles.
Monday night’s match starts a sprint to the finish for Nashville, which plays its final 11 games over 20 days. Eight of those games are against teams who will either appear in the playoffs or are fighting for playoff spots.
Pekka Rinne, who played his 500th NHL game Thursday night and won a 2-1 overtime decision in Washington, is expected to start in net for the Predators. Veteran Mike Smith, who stopped 38 shots in the loss to St. Louis, is expected to get the call for Arizona.
Arizona captain Shane Doan will miss his second game with a lower body injury. Veteran defenseman Zbynek Michalek has been recalled from the Tucson Roadrunners, where he has played all season, and will return to the Coyotes lineup. His 609 games played with the franchise is second most in Coyotes history.
“It was a nice surprise to be able to get called up one more time and see what happens,” Michalek said. “I just want to enjoy it and have fun with it.”
Radim Vrbata continues to lead the Coyotes in goals (17), assists (34) and points (51). Filip Forsberg has a team-high 29 goals for Nashville. Ryan Johansen leads in assists (43) and points (55).