After a grueling final month of the regular season, the Predators finish the year against the lowly Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes sit at 55 points (24-50-7), good for second-worst in the league behind the Montreal Canadiens (53 points). The home team will be looking to win tonight; despite the bad season, tonight is the final game at Gila River Arena.
They’ll have to do that without injured star Clayton Keller. Nick Smaltz leads the remaining team with 23 goals and 58 points as well as the one and only Phil Kessel. Statistically, the eye test and the numbers match pretty closely. According to Evolving-Hockey.com, the Coyotes allow the most expected goals and shot attempts against per 60 minutes and generate the least xG and shot attempts for/60 at 5 on 5.
In net will be a (kind of) familiar face in Karel Vejmelka (13-32-3), a former fifth round pick of the Predators in 2015. Vejmelka has shouldered most of the load this season for the Coyotes at 48 games, and has struggled in net with the poor team in front of him.
The Predators pulled off a surprising victory against the Colorado Avalanche last night, a 5-4 win in the shootout. Team-leading goal scorer Matt Duchene picked up his 43rd goal of the night as well as the only shootout goal to lead the team to the upset win, which eliminated the Avalanche’s chance at the President’s Trophy.
Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm added a goal each as well as forward Ryan Johansen. Josi’s career season continued, as he added two points as well as his 23rd goal. Only Shea Weber has scored that many goals as a Nashville defensemen, and the captain made a solid case for a second Norris trophy.
The Predators can clinch the 1st wild card spot in the West with a point or Dallas loss, but seeding may be the least of the Predators’ concerns as they look to be without starter Juuse Saros for the forseeable future. Alex Daughterty reported the goaltender has a high ankle sprain, with a usual prognosis for recovery at around 4-6 weeks. After Dave Rittich got his chance to make his case for the starter’s crease last night, tonight will see Connor Ingram get only his 3rd start of the season (1-1-0) after being called up from Milwaukee late this week.
Where to Watch
Bally Sports South has tonight’s game, and puck drop is at 9:30 PM so get the coffee. 102.5 The Game has the radio call.