Sometimes you play a game and do everything but win on the scoreboard. Sometimes, you play a less than stellar game but skate away with the victory. The Nashville Predators have experienced both extremes recently, but tonight, they skated away with a 3-0 win over the Phoenix Coyotes, playing an game that could generously be described as ugly..
Part of the ugliness was due to lines that had been juggled, and it was apparent early on that the chemistry between the forwards needed time to coalesce. The revamped lines did provide some jump at times, but there were numerous occasions where passes were missed and the lines just flat out looked disjointed.
The victory by the Predators snapped a four game losing streak, and handed the Coyotes their first back to back losses this season. Phoenix has just won twice in their last eleven trips to Nashville.
Pekka Rinne got the start for the Predators, and he out dueled Ilya Bryzgalov for his 17th career shutout. Rinne was sharp and made some key saves to keep the Coyotes off the board. For the game, Rinne made 33 saves.
The Predators opened the scoring at 3:26 of the first period while on the power play. Shea Weber came in from the blue line and was left alone low and to the left of Bryzgalov. He attempted a cross crease pass that was blocked back to him and he beat Bryzgalov low to the short side post.
The Predators would notch their second goal at 12:48 of the second period while on a 5 on 3 power play. Steve Sullivan sent a crossing pass to a wide open Cal O'Reilly, who had an open net in which to deposit the puck.
The 2-0 lead of the Predators did not seem safe in the third period as the Coyotes pressed the attack and generated some quality scoring chances. Rinne was sharp in net and the defense stepped up to limit second chances for the Yotes.
The Coyotes generated some of their best chances in the third period while a man down. The Nashville power play, potent in the first two periods, shut down and had trouble entering the offensive zone. This allowed Phoenix to gain control of the puck in the neutral zone and get some very good scoring chances. Fortunately for the Predators, Rinne came up with some big stops to hold the Coyotes off the board.
With Bryzgalov pulled for the extra attacker, Jordin Tootoo would add an empty netter to complete the scoring at 19:35 of the third period.
It's no secret the Predators offense has struggled. Tonight, they generated some scoring chances 5 on 5, but could not finish. This has been, and continues to be a problem for the Predators that must be solved for this team to be successful.
Tonight's game highlights the importance of special teams. The Predators dormant power play awoke to tally two goals on seven attempts. The penalty kill continues to improve and play well. Tonight, this unit killed all three man advantage chances that the Coyotes had. The PK has now killed 31 consecutive penalties. The play of the special teams has been and will continue to be critical to the Predators winning games.
This team has been pressing, and there is no secret about that. It has been reflected in their play of late. This is the type of game that will give the team some confidence and hopefully cause them to relax and just play hockey.
This is part of the learning experience for this team. They are learning that losing is not a pleasant experience. They are learning that doing the little things can mean the difference in winning and losing; little things like winning battles on the wall and killing penalties. They are learning to relax and just play hockey.
This team has gone through a rough month in November, yet they find themselves just 2 points out of a playoff spot. The struggle that this team has gone through can make them tougher. They can take heart in the fact that even with the struggles they have endured, they are still in the hunt in the tough Western Conference race.
Time to take the lessons that have been learned and build on them.
My three stars:
1. Pekka Rinne
2. Steve Sullivan
3. Cal O'Reilly