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Season series: This will be the first meeting of the 2012-13 season between the Nashville Predators and Phoenix Coyotes as well as the first meeting between the two since the Coyotes eliminated the Predators in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals last spring in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The teams split four games in the 2011-12 regular season.
Big story: In a battle between perhaps the West's biggest hard-luck losers so far the season, the Predators and Coyotes, both of whom have high expectations, but through a combined 10 games have just two wins between them, meet with hopes of getting off the shneid in Glendale Monday.
|Photo by Norm Hall|
Coyotes: Phoenix has had a rough start to its year, but while the Predators can claim bad bounces the Coyotes appear to have no such excuse. The Coyotes' four losses have all come in regulation and while the team is scoring, averaging 3.40 goals per game, the defense has not been there to play its part. Phoenix has given up a League-worst four goals per game, a trend that seems almost incomprehensible given the team's relatively tight defense last postseason, when it gave up an average of 2.19 goals against.
One major reason for those struggles is the absence of goalie Mike Smith, who has not played since leaving 11 minutes into the Coyotes' only win of the season on Jan. 23 with a lower-body injury. He will not play again on Monday.
Instead, the Coyotes will start goalie Chad Johnson, who will make his debut in Phoenix's net. Johnson has played six NHL games, including one for the New York Rangers at Jobing.com Arena on Jan. 30, 2010. The Coyotes won that game 3-2.
"We're looking for a spark and we're looking to improve our goals against," Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said when asked why he has turned to Johnson over Jason LaBarbera for this game.
The Coyotes recalled Johnson from the American Hockey League last week. In 24 games with the Portland Pirates, Johnson posted a 14-8-2 record with a 2.80 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage.
"As a goalie, it's your responsibility to give your team a chance to win and I'm looking forward to that opportunity tonight," Johnson said.
Note: CLICK HERE TO WATCH AN EXCLUSIVE Q & A WITH COYOTES GOALIE CHAD JOHNSON
Predators: For the better part of the last decade, Nashville has been among the League's most dependable playoff participants. The Predators have missed the postseason just once since 2003, but after a rocky start due as much to bad luck as anything else, they're facing a sizeable obstacle as they aim for a fourth-consecutive berth. Through five games Nashville has won just one game, but the Predators could easily be sitting with four wins instead. Three of Nashville's four losses have been of the shootout variety.
More worrisome might be the fact that Nashville's deep hole could get deeper -- and fast. The Predators opened the season with two games at home, each a shootout loss, and then ventured on a massive seven-game road trip. Their visit to Glendale Monday will mark the mid-point of the trek, which to this point has yielded one win and two losses. Things won't get much easier after Monday, either. Already facing a stiff deficit in the competitive Central Division, the Predators visit Los Angeles, San Jose and St. Louis before returning to Music City.
Who's hot: Coyotes forward Mikkel Boedker will enter tonight's game riding a career-high four-game point streak (1 goal, four assists)... As the Predators struggle to get their offense going -- they're averaging just two goals per game so far this season -- David Legwand could be providing a spark, scoring twice in their last three outings. ...
Injury report: Phoenix will likely be without Rostislav Klesla (lower-body injury) and will be without center Matthew Lombardi (upper-body injury). Smith (lower-body injury) is out, too. ... Paul Gaustad (upper-body innjury) was back in the lineup for Nashville Saturday night against Anaheim, but Patric Hornqvist (lower-body injury) is out indefinitely, according to coach Barry Trotz after hurting himself against the Ducks.