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Game 69: Nashville @ Phoenix – Fending Off the Dogs


Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

Three long months have passed since the Phoenix Coyotes and the Nashville Predators squared off on the ice. The Predators maintain their 5th seed in the West with 87 points. The Coyotes, largely due to the larger than life play of Mike Smith in goal stand at 7th with 78 points.

Phoenix is dangerously close to falling out of the playoff race as their chances for points begins to dwindle, yet they are only 3 points back of the division lead trailing Dallas. Nashville is trying to catch up to Detroit and a regulation win over the Red Wings on Saturday night is helping the cause to gain home-ice for the playoffs.

Puck drop is at 9 P.M. and can be heard on 102.5 The Game or viewed on FS Tennessee.

This Year’s Series: 1-2-0 Home: 1-1-0 Away: 0-1-0

Looking at the Coyotes: It’s the definition of dominance: Mike Smith. If Pekka Rinne was the top goaltender in the month of January, then Mike Smith is the definitive winner in February. His numbers are as follows: 11 Wins (won every single game he played in February) 2 shutouts and allowed only 16 goals in the month.

In support of this outstanding goaltending, the Coyotes leading scorer is the ageless Ray Whitney who is sporting an impressive 61 points. Radim Vrbata paces the team with 30 goals on the year followed by Whitney and Doan with 21 and 20 goals. The surprise of the year may be the play of Lauri Korpikoski who has 32 points with 15 goals. Korpikoski’s speed and hands make him a second line threat and a breakout specialist who can create plays and mismatches for the opponent.

Looking at the Predators: An important win on Saturday against the division rival Detroit Red Wings may give the Predators a huge confidence boost and pull them closer to overtaking Detroit in the standings for home-ice. Another confidence boost may come from the power play finally clicking again with the addition of Andrei Kostitsyn netting two PP goals including the game winner.

The new additions are gelling at a staggering pace and the chemistry between the Kostitsyn’s is palpable. Gaustad is killing penalties admirably and Gill provides the much needed defensive support especially with Klein still missing games. Pairing Josi with Gill has proven to be beneficial both on the PK and 5 on 5 play.

For the Coyotes to win: Speed and an aggressive fore-check has been the devil against the Predators this year. Although there are some occasions where Nashville has taken an overzealous defensive pinch and capitalized on a two-on-one breakaway.

Mike Smith will have to be on-point to better the Predators, but in research Jason LaBarbara has been stingy against the Predators garnering the two Phoenix victories so far. Korpikoski should be a huge factor for reasons mentioned above, but Whitney and Vrbata can snipe from anywhere and they are both huge beneficiaries of net traffic.

For the Predators to win: Use all four lines to overwhelm the Coyotes. After watching the game film from the Saturday night game against Detroit, Phoenix will more than likely try to key in on the Kostitsyn’s and Fisher’s line. This is a perfect opportunity for the 3rd and 4th lines to step in and score the lunch-pail effort goals. Halischuk, Wilson and Bourque may become very useful in this venture.

A battle between two amazing goaltenders in Smith and Rinne is more than worth the price of admission in Glendale. It’ll be up to Rinne to track the puck well and the Predators defensive lines to open the site lines and clear the crease. The tools are there for another 2 points and striking distance to Detroit. Can the Predators widen the gap from the bottom 3 playoff hopefuls while gaining ground for home-ice? Better stay up late to find out.


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