Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Predators Defeat the Desert Dogs 5-2

The Nashville Predators had dropped three games in a row in Jobing.com Arena and had been vexed by the Phoenix Coyotes and their stellar netminder Ilya Bryzgalov. Tonight, they reversed their fortunes with a 5-2 win, allowing them to leapfrog over the Coyotes in the Western Conference standings by a point.

The game opened with the Coyotes flying and pushing the Predators back on their heels and deep into their defensive zone. The tenor of this game at the outset did not look good for the Predators, as early on the Coyotes looked dominant.

A funny thing happened on the way to the apparent dominance of the Coyotes. The Predators scored two goals in just 12 seconds to rock the Coyotes.

J.P. Dumont opened the scoring for the Predators at 8:16 of the first period as he banged home a shot off a pass from Chris Mueller, who worked hard in the corner to dig the puck out. The line of Mueller, Dumont, and Matt Halischuk has shown amazing chemistry and energy in the short time that they have been on the ice together.

On the ensuing face off the puck went deep into the Coyotes zone. Patric Hornqvist pursued the puck deep and centered a pass to the front of the net. The puck caromed off a Coyote defenders skate and back to Hornqvist, who was driving to the front of the net. With Bryzgalov out of position, Hornqvist gathered in the puck and flipped a backhand shot into an open net.

Two goals in 12 seconds and all the momentum was with the Predators.

Momentum, fickle as she often is, quickly switched back to the Coyotes.

The first Coyote goal can only be charitably characterized as a fluke. With the puck deep in the Predators zone and the puck loose at the side of the net, defenseman Shane O'Brien tried to slide the puck back to Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne. Unfortunately, he slid the puck between Rinne and the post. Radim Vrbata  got credit for the goal as he was the last Coyote player to touch the puck. Rinne was visibly upset after the goal, which was strange indeed.

Phoenix would tie the game at 14:01 of the first on a goal by Lee Stempniak. Stempniak was cruising in front of the net and deflected a pass from Adrian Aucoin past Rinne.

Phoenix outshot the Predators 16-7 in the wild first period. Great saves by Rinne on several plays kept the Coyotes from taking the lead. As strange as this game had been in the first period, one could only imagine what the remaining 40 minutes would hold for these teams.

What it would hold for the Predators in the second period was an offensive outburst from J.P. Dumont. The Dumont, Halischuk, Mueller line would wreak havoc on the Coyotes in the second period. Dumont would add his second goal of the contest at 11:25 of the second as he banged home a rebound from close in off a shot by Joel Ward.

Dumont's line was strong throughout the second period, and he would strike for his third goal of the contest at 17:35 as he was on the off side and knocked home a rebound of a Matt Halishcuk shot. Halischuk drove hard to the net on the right wing and put a shot on Bryzgalov, who kicked out a rebound to the right side. Dumont beat the defender to the net and had had an easy put back for his hat trick.

Dumont now has five goals in two games, and it is a very good sign for the Predators that he is finding his offensive touch.

The period ended with the Predators and the Coyotes each putting 11 shot on goal, but Dumont was able to tally twice to give the Predators the two goal advantage.

In the third period, the Predators controlled play in the neutral zone and slowed the speedy Coyotes attack. Although the Coyotes outshot the Predators 7-2, most of the shots were from the outside and were fairly routine saves for Rinne.

The Predators did not record their first shot on goal until 14:29 of the period, but they made it count. Patric Hornqvist broke in on net, and with Colin Wilson screening in front, roofed a wrister over the shoulder of Bryzgalov. Hornqvist's second goal of the night was the knife in the heart of the Coyotes.

Phoenix never seriously challenged after that goal and the Predators choked off their offensive attack for the remainder of the period. 5-2 final, and a huge road win for the Predators.

With this win, the Predators record stands at 25-15-6, good for 56 points and 4th place in the Western Conference.

Every game counts, and every game is a character game right now in the Western Conference. There are teams trying to separate from the pack, and the Predators can ill afford a losing streak. After the loss in Chicago, this is a very good bounce back win against a team that was ahead of them in the standings.

My three stars:

1. J.P. Dumont

2. Patric Hornqvist

3. Matt Halischuk

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