|Banged-up Predators host Coyotes|
Injuries are a part of any season. They have hit the Nashville Predators at the midway point of 2017-18, potentially leaving them without their entire first line for Thursday night's visit from the Arizona Coyotes.
Fortunately for Nashville (26-11-6), it got plenty of practice at dealing with key injuries during last spring's run to the Stanley Cup Finals. So if it has to play Arizona without Filip Forsberg (upper-body), Viktor Arvidsson (lower-body) and Ryan Johansen (upper-body), it wouldn't be ideal by any means, but so be it.
"It's what you have to do. It's kind of what we talked about all last year during the playoffs," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "Whoever's playing, whoever gets the minutes, we're confident in everybody in this room and we're going to get the job done.
"Obviously, when you're missing those guys, they're spectacular and they create a lot of offense for us. But we've got a lot of good hockey players in here to step up and take those minutes. It might end up like a one-to-nothing game with those guys filling in those minutes and just working hard."
Which is exactly how Tuesday night's win over the Vegas Golden Knights played out. Despite getting outshot 43-27 by the Western Conference's top team, Nashville got a sterling performance from goalie Juuse Saros and a third-period goal from Kevin Fiala to leave the rink with two points.
Laviolette's move to send Saros down to Milwaukee of the AHL during the Predators' week off paid dividends. He stayed sharp by playing three games in four days, and was the best player on the ice on a night when Nashville was in defend mode most of the game.
"I always try to improve every day and help the team as much as I can when I get in," Saros said. "Right now, I'm feeling good, but obviously you can't get too comfortable."
That could also apply to the Predators when it comes to playing the Coyotes (10-28-8). While Arizona is the NHL's worst team, it has three wins in four games over Nashville the last year and a half, including a 3-2 overtime decision on Jan. 4 in Glendale.
The Predators led that game late in the third period, but an Austin Watson penalty led to a tying goal that forced extra hockey. Christian Fischer scored the winner for a rare Coyotes victory.
Arizona nearly pulled off a comeback win Tuesday night, erasing a 2-0 deficit and forcing overtime before falling 3-2 to San Jose in a shootout. It was its 14th loss in 17 games, four of them in overtime or a shootout.
"There's not a ton of games where we've been blown out or embarrassed," Coyotes center Brad Richardson said. "It's just games where we slip here or there and end up losing the game. It's a fine line and we just seem to be on the wrong side of it a lot."
Arizona is expected to start Antti Raanta (6-12-4, 2.68 goal-against average, .915 save percentage) in net against Pekka Rinne (21-8-3, 2.43 GAA, .925 save percentage). Rinne hasn't played since a 2-1 win on Jan. 9 over Edmonton.