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Nashville is riding high on a three-game, home-stand win streak and continue to edge closer to the final spot of the Western Conference playoff picture. Phoenix has been slipping the other direction and currently reside in 13th place, 4 points behind the Predators with one less game played. Phoenix typically plays Nashville tight, considering what the Coyotes did to Nashville in last years quarter finals, but Nashville took it to Phoenix the last time the Coyotes were in town and Predator fans are hoping it can be a clean sweep at 501 Broadway Thursday night.
The Coyotes have already played 13 games in the month of March and come into this game on the end of a back-to-back set playing a red-hot Minnesota squad and as of this writing leading 3-2 with 7 minutes to play. Out of all the big names on Phoenix, it is an unlikely pair leading the Coyotes in points with 19: Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Mikkel Boedker. With a persistence in setting up their teammates, this left-winger and defenseman are pacing the Coyotes in points, but certainly not in goals. That honor is held by the steady veteran presence and captain of the squad, Shane Doan. Doan was looked at being a hot commodity in the off-season where many teams were trying to lure him away from Phoenix with different trade scenarios and the like. Doan staying with the team was admirable and showed solidarity when the Coyotes organization was in peril and still looking to turn things around in the desert.
Mike Smith has seen the majority of the action in goal but his play is not anywhere close to the lights-out performance from last season going into the playoffs where he stood like a brick wall until falling to the eventual Cup-winning L.A. Kings. Smith’s numbers have been pedestrian with a GAA of 2.83 ranking him 35th in the league. His bright spot is being 2nd in the NHL in shutouts with 4, one behind Pekka Rinne’s league leading five. Unfortunately, Smith suffered a vicious hit to the head from Edler and is not in action and with LaBarbara playing against Minnesota on the back-to-back, look for the Coyotes to go with Chad Johnson in relief.
The Predators are starting to feed off the hometown crowd and battle back into games to get 6 points in their last 3 games winning every one in regulation. Nashville has had a rough go of things when they get scored on first, but in the last three games, Nashville trailed early and pulled it back together tying the score both times before intermission and raising their second period play to take the game away from their opponents.
The increased output by the veteran’s on Nashville roster is refreshing and needed for Nashville to make a push to get into one of the final playoff slots in the West. Martin Erat has regained the point lead for the Predators with 20 points while Gabriel Bourque leads in goals with 10. After a six-game scoreless drought, Erat has tallied 7 points in his last three games, all wins for the Predators. Another surprise has been the play of Bobby Butler who has four points in his last four games (all assists). Certainly not bad for a waiver-wire pick-up.
The pairing of Victor Bartley and Kevin Klein has set-up a unique dynamic similar to Weber/Josi in a smaller degree. Bartley plays an offensive/defensive style game while Kevin Klein is the rock-solid stay-at-home defenseman that has great puck handling skills and breakout speed to set up plays out of the defensive zone. Once Josi moved up to the top line with Weber, a sizable hole was left in the bottom two pairings, but the insertion of Bartley and the addition by subtraction of Hannan may be just the recipe for two shutdown defensive pairings that can also contribute on the PP/PK. Amidst the goal scoring flurry, Pekka Rinne has played decent, but has let in some softies (Calgary game for example), but with the team firing more pucks on net and the results being buried in back, Rinne will need to continue to shut down opponents and keep the opposing goals to a minimum for Nashville to have a chance at the 7th/8th seed.
Game time is at 7:00 P.M. Central and can be heard on 102.5 the Game and viewed locally on FS Tennessee. If you like what you’re reading or have questions/comments feel free to write us below or follow us on Twitter @Preducated and @ThePredatorial.