The Arizona Coyotes will be saying goodbye to much more than the 2021-22 season when they host the Nashville Predators on Thursday.
It will be the final game for the Coyotes at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz., after the city announced last year it was terminating the lease with the club at the end of the season.
After 19 seasons in Glendale, the Coyotes (24-50-7, 55 points) are set to begin next season at a smaller venue about 20 miles away on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe.
Construction on the facility is expected to be completed in the fall and will feature a seating capacity of 5,100, compared to 17,125 for hockey games at Gila River Arena.
Friday’s game against the Predators will be bittersweet for many Arizona players.
Christian Fischer, who is completing his sixth season with the Coyotes, said what he’ll miss the most is greeting and conversing with the arena staff on game days.
“It’s going to be tough to leave that,” Fischer said. “As a Coyotes organization and myself personally, we’ve had some really fun times at that arena.”
The Predators (45-29-7, 97 points) are also playing the final game of their regular season, except they have the Stanley Cup playoffs on the horizon after securing one of the two wild-card spots from the Western Conference.
Nashville clinched a playoff spot on Tuesday, but the celebration was tempered when the Predators also lost No. 1 goalie Juuse Saros to a lower-body injury in a 5-4 overtime loss against the Calgary Flames.
Saros didn’t play in a 5-4 shootout win at the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, and Predators coach John Hynes said he won’t play against the Coyotes.
Hynes spoke to 102.5 The Game in Nashville on Thursday and did not provide an update on Saros, except that he was still getting evaluated.
“We’re hopeful,” Hynes said. “But, I think, at this point in time it’s important for him to get a little bit of rest, let the thing settle down and then see where he goes from here over the next few days.”
Saros is ninth in the NHL with a .918 save percentage and tied for 15th in the NHL with a 2.64 goals-against average.
David Rittich started against the Avalanche and faced 20 shots in the first period, allowing three goals, before settling in and surrendering one goal on the next 26 shots in regulation and overtime, then blanking Colorado in the shootout.
Goalie Connor Ingram was recalled from Milwaukee of the American Hockey League on Wednesday and is expected to make his third NHL start against the Coyotes.
Depending on how well Saros recovers, Ingram and Rittich could be the goalies Nashville depends on during the playoffs.
Nashville may not play some of its other veterans against the Coyotes, but if Roman Josi scores, he’ll set a team record for goals by a defensemen in a season.
Josi scored his 23rd goal of the season against the Avalanche to tie Shea Weber, who scored 23 goals in the 2008-09 and 2013-14 seasons.
–Field Level Media