The Phoenix Coyotes eliminated the Nashville Predators on their
way to the Western Conference finals last season, but it’s starting
to look like merely qualifying for the postseason this spring might
be a stretch.
The Coyotes attempt to avoid their longest losing streak in 19
years Thursday night while the Predators look to continue damaging
Phoenix’s playoff chances by sweeping this four-game homestand.
The Coyotes (13-15-5) ousted the Predators (14-13-6) in five
games during the second round of the playoffs last year before
falling in the conference finals, but even having a chance to
return to the NHL’s postseason tournament is looking dicey. Phoenix
is tied with Edmonton for 12th in the West, five points back of San
Jose and St. Louis for the final two playoff positions.
The Coyotes’ chances have been hurt by an 0-5-2 skid during
which they’ve totaled eight goals. They haven’t endured a longer
slide since tying a franchise record with 10 straight losses as the
Winnipeg Jets from Feb. 6-25, 1994.
The latest defeat may have been the most difficult to take.
Phoenix rallied from two goals down to take a 3-2 lead Wednesday at
Minnesota, but gave up the tying goal with 54.3 seconds to go in
regulation before falling 4-3 in overtime.
“We battled back for a point, but the reality is in our
situation we need more than one point. … When you continue to
find ways to give points away it’s very frustrating,” coach Dave
Things have been made more difficult with a head injury to
goaltender Mike Smith, one of the catalysts behind last year’s
playoff run. He was placed on injured reserve Tuesday, retroactive
to March 21, and there’s no timetable for his return.
That could mean a third consecutive start for Jason LaBarbera,
who is 0-4-1 with a 3.22 goals-against average in five starts this
season. He had 33 saves Wednesday.
“It’s about a big of a kick to the nuts as you’re going to get.
I felt like we were going to win that game,” LaBarbera said.
The veteran backup has won his last three visits to Nashville
behind a 1.67 GAA, but Chad Johnson might not be a bad option
should Tippett decide to give LaBarbera a rest. He’s made only two
starts this season, but stopped 21 shots in a 4-0 win over the
Coyotes on Jan. 28
Whichever goaltender gets the call will have to be sharp when
Martin Erat and Mike Fisher are on the ice. Erat, who leads the
Predators with 20 points, has a goal and six assists during
Nashville’s three straight home wins – including two assists in
Monday’s 3-2 victory over Edmonton.
It seems he may be in for another productive performance since
he has five assists over the past three regular-season home
meetings with Phoenix, including two in a 3-0 victory Feb. 14.
Fisher scored on one of those assists by Erat, and he has 14
points in 14 career regular-season matchups. He has five goals and
three assists during a seven-game point streak.
Fisher hasn’t put together a longer streak since a career-high
nine-game run from Dec. 23, 2007-Jan. 12, 2008, with Ottawa.
Including the final two meetings in Nashville during the playoff
series, Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne is 2-1-0 with a 0.34 GAA
in his last three home starts against Phoenix.