By Dave Vest
The Coyotes will conclude a season-high six-game homestand tonight with a game against the Nashville Predators. The puck drops at 7 p.m. (Arizona time).
Both teams have 61 points, but the Predators have one more win and have played one less game so they are in fourth place in the Western Conference standings and the Coyotes are in fifth.
“It’s going to be a dogfight right to the end (of the season),” Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. “We’ve got to put a strong push on before the Olympic break. This is a key stretch for us. The last game of a homestand, we’d like to finish it out right before we go out on the road.”
Phoenix is 2-2-1 on the homestand heading into tonight's game, including a 7-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night.
, who was pulled from that game after giving up three goals on 13 shots, will be back in net for the Coyotes (28-17-5).
Forward Daniel Winnik, who suffered an upper-body injury in the second period of Monday's loss and did not return to the game, skated at Thursday's morning skate but likely will not play tonight.
“It’s going to be a hard-working game,” said Coyotes forward Scottie Upshall
, whom the Predators selected with the sixth overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. “Both teams are side-by-side in the standings… It’s very important for us to keep defensive-minded and take advantage of scoring opportunities."
Nashville (29-17-3) enters the game with a five-game road winning streak that dates to Dec. 29. It is the franchise's second-longest winning streak away from home. Four of those five road wins have been decided by one goal. The fifth was decided by two goals.
Nine players have notched 20 or more points for the Predators, who will play again Friday night at Colorado.
“They are a hard-working team and they take a lot of pride in that,” said Coyotes center Vernon Fiddler
, who spent six seasons with Nashville before signing with Phoenix as a free agent last summer. ”I think they’re in the same situation as we are. They can’t rely on a bunch of skill to win them hockey games every night. They really rely on their character and outworking teams.”