Preds trying to reach top eight before break

Thursday, January 24, 2008 at 12:58am

The Nashville Predators have one last chance head into the All-Star break in one of the top eight positions in the Western Conference.

They need two points tonight when they face the Phoenix Coyotes at 8 at Arena in Glendale, Ariz. The Predators have won four of their last five games. They took the day off Wednesday.

“Points are so crucial right now,” said goaltender Chris Mason. “It is the playoffs already for all of the teams that are jammed together.”

The Predators are in ninth place in the conference, two points ahead of the Coyotes.

Predators coach Barry Trotz has let his players know what he is expecting from everyone for the rest of the season.

“We have no room for error,” Trotz said. “If you play well you are going to continue to play. If you don’t play well you are going to be out of the lineup and you are going to have to work hard to get back in.

“We are going to need everybody. There is no question. Everybody is going to have be very responsible and very detailed in their individual games.”

As the Predators head into the break, one of the areas that is looking better with each game is the goaltending. Mason is 4-1-1 in his last six games. Dan Ellis recorded his fourth shutout of the season stopping all of Colorado’s shots Tuesday night. He is 4-1-1 in his last six starts.

Mason, who was given the starting job this season, needed some time to adjust to this new role.

“I think he has made the adjustment,” said Trotz. “I think he is more comfortable in the No. 1 role.

“It is just like anything. When you are in the workplace and you get a new title or a new job description or whatever there is a period of transition. There was nothing physical for Mason. I just don’t think that mentally he had all of the dots connected in that role.”

HAMMER PLAYS HARD: One of the hardest working and least noticed defensemen for the Predators is Dan Hamhuis.

“When you think about toughness the first thing that comes to mind for a lot of people is the fighting aspect,” said Trotz. “Hammer isn’t going to get in a lot of fights but he plays people hard.

“There are no concerns about the physical aspects of Hammer’s game. He has been very, very durable.”

PREDS PROSPECT ALL-STARS: Goaltender Jeremy Smith of the Plymouth Whalers and center Nick Spaling of the Kitchener Rangers were named to the Ontario Hockey League All-Star Team.

Smith is second in the OHL in saves percentage (.919) and is tied for third in shutouts with three. He is also tied for ninth in goals against average (2.81).

Spaling is second in the OHL in power play goals with 20. He is tied for sixth in game-winning goals with five and tied for 10th in goals with 28.

They will both play for the Western Conference. The All-Star Classis is scheduled for Feb. 5-6 in Sault Ste. Marie.

NUMBERS GAME: The Predators are 7-2-2 in the month of January. They are 5-2-1 in the second game of back-to-back games.

The penalty kill has stopped 27 of the last 29 power-play attempts the unit has faced over the last eight games.

The Predators have scored 15 goals in their last three games.

One of the reasons for that scoring is right wing J.P. Dumont, who heads into the Phoenix game with a 13-game points streak (nine goals, nine assists). He has the second longest points streak in the league at this time. Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf has points in his last 14 games.

INJURY UPDATE: Center Radek Bonk (arm) might be back in the lineup against the Coyotes.

Center David Legwand (ankle) should be ready when the Predators return from the All-Star break to play the Bruins in Boston Jan. 29.

Winger Jordin Tootoo (hip) remains on injured reserve with no prediction as to his return. Winger Darcy Hordichuk is also sidelined for the near future with a leg injury.

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