The Phoenix Coyotes (33-18-5) make their first trip if the year to the Sommet Center to play the Nashville Predators (30-21-3) who are in desperate need of points to keep their ship headed in the right direction after snapping their five-game losing streak last Saturday against the Atlanta Thrashers.
The Preds will face the same combination of Western Conference upstarts in Phoenix and Colorado that sent them down a bad path during the losing streak a couple of weeks ago. The Preds have fallen back from the two teams and need a win against both to pull back closer to the top of the pack.
Phoenix will be missing ex-Pred Scottie Upshall who single-handedly destroyed the Preds with a hat trick in the Yotes 4-3 win on January 21. Upshall appears lost for the season with a "lower body injury."
Marcel Goc will return for the Predators who will have close to a full roster on the ice for one of the few times this season. Wade Belak is still out with a foot injury, but everyone else appears ready to give it a full effort.
Pekka Rinne (19-10-2, 2.82, .902) will be in goal for the Predators while Ilya Bryzgalov (29-14-4, 2.35, .919) will be in net for the Coyotes.
Predator's Keys to the Game
"Full" Roster Needs to Play with Intensity...
Tonight's game marks on of the few times this year when the preseason projected roster has actually taken the ice together as a complete unit. The team was almost there a couple of weeks ago when Jordin Tootoo and Jerred Smithson returned but Joel Ward and Marcel Goc went out about the same time.
One of the keys to the season so far has been the energey exhibited by the call-ups from Milwaukee like Nick Spaling, Andreas Thuresson, Mike Santorelli and others. Cal O'Reilly and to an extent, Cody Fransen, are the only remaining "hungry" youngsters that are fighting for every minute of ice time.
With that being said, it is time for the leadership of the team, starting with Captain Jason Arnott, to step up and set the example for the whole team to give 100% for 60 minutes each game as if they were fighting for ice time, just like the kids.
Pekka Needs to Take the Responsibility He Has Been Given...
The goalie rotation that has existed for the last six weeks has to come to an end with one goalie claiming the net and staying there. This is the third time that Pekka has been given the back to back start and he needs to respond accordingly. He has lost the last two opportunities and needs a turnaround tonight.
With the schedule the Preds face in March, the team will need both goalies playing well but if the team is to head to the playoffs, they will need to have one of the two as a dominant force. It is clear that the Predator brass expects it to be Rinne. It's time for Pekka to play the way he did last season when he was feared by the opposition. By the way, the defense needs to help him out in front of the net, but that's another story.
Recognize The Turning Point Where The Preds Are and Go in the Right Direction...
This is a key time in this season where the entire team needs to recognize that the team is sitting at a fork in the road and needs to decide what kind of team they are and where they want to be headed.
The team has looked like world beaters in spurts and looked like an offensively challenged second tier team at other times. We have seen that they are capable of being a top team as well as very average.
I hope they choose to want to be a top tiered team but with the recent losing streak, they will need to reel off another win streak, or maybe go on an 8-2 run to close the gap with the teams that have pulled away from them and put some distance on the teams nipping at their heels.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass