Predators prepare for Coyotes' team that seems to have their number

PA Parenteau and the Nashville Predators knew they were in for a tough game Saturday night at the surging Carolina Hurricanes, but couldn't do anything about it.

"We knew what we were getting ourselves into," he said after a 4-2 loss in Raleigh, N.C., "but maybe we didn't believe it."

The same could easily apply for Monday night, when Nashville starts a three-game homestand against the Arizona Coyotes, a team that has been trying to keep its head above water for most of the season. Yet, the Coyotes have resembled a playoff team in their two meetings with the Predators.

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After a 3-2 shootout win Nov. 3 in Glendale, Ariz., Arizona made it two straight over Nashville on Dec. 10 with a 4-1 decision. In both games, the Coyotes have been able to cash in their chances while getting good games from their goalie.

That formula hasn't always been there for Arizona (26-36-9), which is coming off a 3-0 loss Saturday night to St. Louis in Glendale. The result didn't sit well with coach Dave Tippett, largely because the Coyotes no-showed in the first period, managing just three shots on net.

"We were so poor in the first period," he said. "It was maddening to say the least. We had some guys trying but the ability to get in a battle and wanting to get in a battle to allow you to play in the offensive zone or clear your own zone, there were just not enough guys that were engaged in that.

"When you don't do that, the whole game is whizzing by you."

That's how Predators coach Peter Laviolette felt against Carolina, which used its speed at every turn to control the game. It outshot Nashville 37-29, won 55 percent of the faceoffs and led 2-0 nine minutes into the match, forcing the Predators into chase mode throughout.

The Hurricanes' coach when they won the 2006 Stanley Cup, Laviolette had a feeling the game was going to happen like it did.

"They were quicker than us, they were harder in the areas than we were, they got themselves a lead and they made it difficult to generate offense," he said. "Their speed was a factor. We didn't play as fast as they did. They were able to get a lead and stay on it."

The result dropped Nashville to 35-25-11 for the season and into a third-place tie in the Central Division with St. Louis. The Blues own the tiebreaker since they have more wins, so the Predators will enter Monday night's game as the Western Conference's second wild-card, six points ahead of Los Angeles.

Monday night's match starts a sprint to the finish for Nashville, which plays its final 11 games over 20 days. Eight of those games are against teams who will either appear in the playoffs or are fighting for playoff spots.

Pekka Rinne, who played his 500th NHL game Thursday night and won a 2-1 overtime decision in Washington, is expected to start in net for the Predators. Veteran Mike Smith, who played well in the loss to St. Louis as he stopped 38 shots, will probably get the call for Arizona.