Coyotes look to cash in vs. struggling Predators

Connor Murphy leads the Coyotes with 18 blocked shots through nine games.
Christopher Hanewinckel/Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Neither Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett nor Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette are willing to pin their teams' early-season struggles entirely on goaltending. There are myriad issues facing each team as they muddle through sluggish starts.

That said, Tippett noted that his team's win over San Jose on Tuesday marked the first game this season in which a Coyotes goalie had posted a save percentage above the league average.

“A save here or there would make a big difference in how we're looking at things right now,” said Tippett, who got a career-high 39 saves from backup Louis Domingue against the Sharks. “It can clean up a lot of other mistakes.”

The Coyotes at least have a fair excuse in net. Starter Mike Smith has been out since suffering a left leg injury in the second game of the season at Ottawa that still has him listed as week-to-week. That has forced Domingue and third-string goalie Justin Peters to fill in.

For Nashville, the goaltending struggles have come down to a once-elite player underperforming. Entering Thursday's game against the Coyotes at Gila River Arena, Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (2-4-1) is tied for 22nd in NHL save percentage at .914 and owns a 2.88 goals-against average, which ranks 31st.

“It's a team sport. But, inside a team sport, it's an individual position,” Rinne told the Tennessean on Thursday. “Every single goal you give up matters and it shows in your statistics, so it's easy to look at those statistics and let that show you how you're playing.

“I've learned not to look at those numbers. Eventually, if you keep doing the right thing, playing well and working hard, those things are going to take care of (themselves).”

Rinne's season has been a story of inconsistency. He stopped 28 of 29 shots in a 5-1 win at Colorado on Tuesday — a performance the Predators hope will spark a good run.

“We need and he needs to be part of the solution to get us out of this,” GM David Poile told the Tennessean. “Higher save percentage, the save at the right time. Do I think he's playing good? Yes, I do. Do I think he can play better? We need him to play better, just like the same thing I'd say with the forwards and defensemen. Everybody's got to take their game up a notch.”

For the Coyotes, Smith skated for the first time in equipment on Wednesday, but he is still at least a week away from returning to game action. That means Domingue will shoulder the brunt of the load, including Thursday's game. Domingue has been plagued by soft goals this season, but he is hoping Tuesday's performance against the Sharks will get him back to the form he displayed last season when Smith missed three months for surgery on a core muscle.

“I was feeling good, but I've been feeling good almost all year,” Domingue said. “It was just a matter of being focused for 60 minutes and getting the job done.”

Domingue was helped by 27 blocked shots in the San Jose game, the most for the Coyotes since Nov. 22, 2014. Alex Goligoski led the block party with five; Connor Murphy is the season leader with 18.

In addition to the goaltending concerns, the Coyotes have struggled on special teams. They've gone six consecutive games without a power-play goal (0 for 16) and rank 27th in the league with a success rate of 10.0 (3 for 30). Nashville ranks second in the league with a percentage of 33.3 (11 for 33).

Neither side has had great success on the penalty kill. The Coyotes rank 25th (74.2 percent),while the Predators are 29th (71.0).

Center Brad Richardson, who played in career game No. 600 on Tuesday, leads the Coyotes in scoring with four goals and four assists, and he's scored in three consecutive games (two goals, two assists). Oliver Ekman-Larsson is the leading goal scorer with five.

For Nashville, Craig Smith and Viktor Arvidsson have four goals apiece, and Filip Forsberg is the leading scorer with seven points.

Tippett said Wednesday that center Martin Hanzal was going for more tests after leaving Tuesday's game with an upper-body injury. He is questionable for the Predators' game. Left winger Tobias Rieder (left leg) is probable after leaving Tuesday's game following a shot block. Rieder has played in 163 consecutive games. Defenseman Michael Stone (upper body) will miss his third straight game and sixth of the season. Center Christian Dvorak was recalled from Tucson to provide Tippett with forward depth.

For the Predators, center Mike Fisher (upper body) is day-to-day and could play, while left winger Miikka Salomaki (upper body) and defenseman Anthony Bitetto (upper body) are out.

Coyotes vs. Predators, 6:30 p.m., FOX Sports Arizona