After an extended home stand which concluded with last night's 3-2 win over Detroit, the Nashville Predators hit the road this week with a tour through most of the Pacific Division. Currently there's a 5-team race for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference, and this week the Preds will face three of those competitors - so you can bet that each opponent will be absolutely desperate for victory.
Follow after the jump as we take a quick look each of these opponents...
Monday @ Phoenix
The trip starts out with a visit to a team for which Preds fans can feel a bit of sympathy. Ridiculed by fans in traditional markets, coveted by markets like Quebec City as a prime target for relocation, the Phoenix Coyotes have dealt for years now with pressures which the Predators faced during the 2007-2008 season, as Jim Balsillie lingered in the background as a threat to Nashville's hockey fans.
Head coach Dave Tippet has his pack of Coyotes in 7th place currently, thanks in large part to a bold transition in goal. Ilya Bryzgalov was looked at as the cornerstone of the team, but when Philadelphia came calling with a 9-year, $51 contract, Phoenix instead turned things over to Mike Smith, who hadn't caught on with Dallas or Tampa Bay previously. For the bargain rate of $2 million per season (through next year), Phoenix is actually getting better performance so far:
#41 / Goalie / Phoenix Coyotes
Mar 22, 1982
|2011 - Mike Smith||55||3164||30||17||7||120||2.28||1633||1513||.927||5|
Thursday @ San Jose
The San Jose Sharks looked to be the runaway leader of the Pacific Division, but the last two months have seen them sputter, stall, and fall into a tailspin from which they still haven't recovered (as of now, they've lost five straight games). They're getting some decent scoring punch out of young star Logan Couture, who along with Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski gives San Jose three 20-goal scorers already.
#39 / Center / San Jose Sharks
Mar 28, 1989
|2011 - Logan Couture||65||27||26||53||4||14||8||2||3||200||13.5|
Saturday @ Los Angeles
Aren't we sick of these guys by now? This will make three weeks in a row which includes a Predators-Kings game, this time taking place at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Kings had fallen into a bit of a funk much like the Sharks, but they've had a bit of a rejuvenation of late following the Jack Johnson-for-Jeff Carter trade which went down a few days before the Trade Deadline. Since that deal, they've gone 5-3-0, and have scored at least 4 goals in half of those games.
Have the Kings found the solution to the offensive woes which have plagued them all year? If so, they could turn into a real dark-horse in the West. Because much like Phoenix, L.A. is getting spectacular goaltending on the cheap ($1.8 million), this time from Jonathan Quick:
#32 / Goalie / Los Angeles Kings
Jan 21, 1986
|2011 - Jonathan Quick||57||3363||27||19||11||112||2.00||1569||1457||.929||7|
So what do you think? How will the Preds fare on this Pacific adventure?