By Dave Vest
The Coyotes will try to capture home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs tonight when they host the Nashville Predators at Jobing.com Arena. The puck drops at 7 p.m. (Arizona time).
With a victory over the Predators, the Coyotes would secure the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference standings. The San Jose Sharks clinched the Pacific Division title on Tuesday, so fourth place is the highest Phoenix (48-25-6) can finish in the standings.
will start in goal for the Coyotes as they play their 41st and final regular-season home game of the season. Phoenix will end the regular season with two road games - at Los Angeles on Thursday and at San Jose on Saturday.
The Coyotes and Predators, who very well could meet in the first round of the playoffs next week, are similar teams that have played two one-goal games and one two-goal game already this season.
“They’ve got a lot of energy and they play a real, real hard game and they’ve got a lot of speed," Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris
said. "They get pucks in deep and they work the d-men down low and they do a lot of low plays down around the net and battle for pucks. So, we know we’re going to have to battle and outwork them.”
The Coyotes are coming off a 3-2 shootout victory over Edmonton on Saturday night. In that game, Phoenix went 0 for 9 on power plays. To a man, the Coyotes were pleased with how they played with a man advantage despite not scoring.
“We had better offensive-zone time (and) we were quicker with our puck movement,” Assistant Coach Dave King said. “We generated more chances. No goals, but we generated something.”
The Predators (46-28-6) will enter the game in fifth place in the Western Conference standings one point ahead of sixth-place Los Angeles and two points ahead of seventh-place Detroit.
Nashville is expecting center Jason Arnott, who has missed eight games because of a head injury, to return to the lineup tonight. Head Coach Barry Trotz said that playing the last two regular-season games will benefit Arnott in the playoffs because players usually have an off-game in their second game back.
"The first game back is usually adrenaline driven, if you will, and (players) usually fall back the next couple of games," Trotz told The Tennessean
. "We've only got a couple left. I expect him to be pretty good in Phoenix and I expect a little downward trend against St. Louis, and then we're in the playoffs. So there's no wiggle room."
Right wing Patric Hornqvist leads the Predators with 30 goals and 51 points in his first full NHL season.
Tonight's game will be shown on Fox Sports Arizona at 11 p.m. (tape delay).