Predators-Coyotes Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated November 03, 2011
The Nashville Predators haven't been playing the most disciplined hockey recently and they certainly don't want to give extra opportunities to a red-hot team like the Phoenix Coyotes. The Coyotes look to win their fourth straight Thursday night when they host the Predators. Since a 2-0 loss to Los Angeles on Oct. 20, Phoenix (6-3-2) has been on a tear offensively, scoring 19 goals over its last five games, including a 4-1 win at Colorado on Wednesday. Radim Vrbata scored twice and Mike Smith stopped 39 shots. Although the Coyotes were outshot 40-28, they had 10 players record at least one point, with Ray Whitney posting two assists. Although Phoenix relies on a balanced offense, much of the damage during its winning streak has come from Vrbata's line, which includes Whitney and center Martin Hanzal. The trio combined for five goals and seven assists in wins over New Jersey and Los Angeles last week, and Hanzal added an assist Wednesday. "There's good chemistry," said Vrbata, who has four goals in the last two games. "The puck is going in for us and hopefully that will continue." Phoenix also credits improved goaltending for its 4-0-1 stretch. The team has allowed eight goals in the last four contests despite facing a high volume of shots. Smith's impressive performance Wednesday came after he made 37 saves in Saturday's 3-2 overtime win over the Kings. "Our goaltending has been solid," coach Dave Tippett said. While Nashville (5-4-2) has taken at least one point from three straight games, the Predators came up short in a 5-4 overtime loss at Chicago on Monday. Rookie Craig Smith scored his fourth goal of the season while Patric Hornqvist scored twice. The Predators put the Blackhawks on the power play seven times, but killed all of those opportunities, including two 5-on-3s. Despite the penalty kill's success, the extra chances were frustrating to coach Barry Trotz. "I liked our resiliency, I liked a lot of things we did, but I didn't like the way we mismanaged the game in terms of twice 5-on-3 long penalty kills," he said. On Tuesday, he said the team was focusing on playing disciplined hockey. Nashville has killed 42 of 48 power-play opportunities (87.5 percent) this season, tied for sixth-best in the league, but doesn't want to have to rely on that unit. "That's not what we do," Trotz told the Predators' official website. "We don't take penalties. ... (Monday) was very taxing on our penalty kill and our goaltender. It affects our whole group. We have to get away from that." Nashville hopes to have Mike Fisher (head) and Sergei Kostitsyn (lower body) back in the lineup after they both practiced Wednesday. Kostitsyn, who is a game-time decision, ranks third on the team with eight points. Fisher is looking to stay healthy after he missed the first seven games following offseason shoulder surgery. He had two goals and two assists in his first two games back before taking a blind-side hit against Anaheim on Saturday. "I've felt pretty good the last couple days on the ice," Fisher said Wednesday. "It could have been a lot worse. ... Thankfully, it looks like I'll be able to go (Thursday)." Nashville will be without center Nick Spaling, who was placed on injured reserve Monday with a lower-body injury. The Predators have lost their last two against Phoenix, including a 5-2 defeat Oct. 13.
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