The Phoenix Coyotes’ final home game of the regular season may not be meaningful in the standings, but it will carry plenty of weight if they want to send a message to a possible playoff opponent.
The Nashville Predators are among the most likely first-round opponents for the Coyotes, and the teams will stage a potential preview on Wednesday night at Jobing.com Arena.
Phoenix (48-25-6) has already clinched its first playoff spot since 2002 and the first 100-point season in franchise history, both unlikely achievements after the team filed for bankruptcy last summer.
The club also has a firm grip on the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference and home-ice advantage in the opening round of the postseason.
Nashville (46-28-6) currently occupies the No. 5 spot and would face the Coyotes if it finished that way, although Detroit and Los Angeles are in close pursuit and each has a game in hand on the Predators.
“We do feel good about (clinching a playoff berth),” Nashville forward J.P. Dumont(notes) said after the Predators secured a spot with a 4-3 overtime win at Detroit on Saturday. “But we want to make sure we get as good a position as possible.”
Drawing the Coyotes would be no great reward considering Phoenix has gone 28-10-2 at home despite the NHL’s worst attendance. The Coyotes have won six straight in the desert following Saturday night’s 3-2 shootout win over Edmonton.
Nashville, meanwhile, has won five straight road games, matching its longest such streak of the season. But the Predators are still looking for their first regulation victory against the Coyotes, who are 2-0-1 in the season series.
Phoenix is still looking to improve its inconsistent offense, which has not been getting much help from leading scorer and captain Shane Doan(notes). Doan has no points in his last four games and no goals in his last 23, dating back to Jan. 31.
“I think we’re to the point we’re joking about it now,” Doan told the NHL’s official Web site. “There is not a lot else you can do. I mean … it’s as frustrated as I’ve ever been with scoring goals.”
The Coyotes have also been having problems on the power play, going 0 for 9 with the man advantage Saturday. Coyotes coach Dave Tippett was still pleased with a power-play unit that ranks 28th in the league (15.1 percent).
“I thought at times it looked really good,” Tippett said. “We had traffic, we had shots going at the net. That’s what we were looking for. I thought we did all of that. We just didn’t get rewarded for it.”
Nashville is also having power play woes, going 0 for 26 in its last nine games, but that unit may get some help Wednesday. Team captain Jason Arnott(notes) has missed the last eight games with a concussion but may return against Phoenix.
The Predators have still gone 10-2-1 in their last 13 games to secure their fifth trip to the playoffs in the last six years.
They may have a chance to advance past the first round for the first time thanks to a hot goalie. Pekka Rinne(notes) has gone 9-2-1 with a 1.64 goals-against average and four shutouts in his last 12 starts.
Rinne has been even better against the Coyotes, going 4-0-1 with a 0.97 GAA and two shutouts in five career meetings.