You remember how as a young child you learned to ride a bike. There were moments of sheer ecstasy as you rode along with the wind in your hair. There were also moments of sheer terror as the wheels wobbled and you eventually crashed to the ground with your knees skinned up, bloody and sore.
Tonight, the Predators fell off their bike and wound up with the skinned knees, sore and beaten, as the Phoenix Coyotes dominated the Predators in a 5-2 win.
The euphoria of the first two games, wobbly but wins nevertheless, disappeared as the Coyotes manhandled the Predators.
This is part and parcel of fielding a young team.
The callow Predators struggled in the first period of the game as they went over seven minutes without a shot on goal. In the meantime, they hung starting netminder Pekka Rinne out to dry. The Coyotes peppered the Predators goaltender with shot after shot, and Rinne could only hold the fort for so long, as the Coyotes overwhelmed the Predators for three first period goals en route to a 3-0 advantage that they would never give up.
The disappointing aspect of this loss was the fact that the Predators lost puck battles all night. They struggled to enter the offensive zone, and they could not clear the defensive zone. The Predators were outworked in all zones tonight, and the Coyotes made them pay for their lack of effort.
This was reflected in the shot totals. In the first period, the Coyotes outshot the Predators 16-7, arguably the worst period of hockey that the Preds have played in this young season. It didn't get much better in the second period, as the Coyotes held a 12-8 shot advantage. Only in the third period did the Predators muster an effort worthy of Predator hockey, out shooting the Coyotes 1-3. By then, it was too little, too late.
Here are the ugly details: Dave Schlemko scored at 12:00 of the first; Ryan Whitney at 14:28; and Lauri Korpikoski at 18:45.
In the second period, Mikkel Boedker tallied at 11:26. Ryan Suter finally got the Predators on the board with a short handed blast at at 14:01.
In the third period, Colin Wilson gave the Predators some life with a blast from just inside the face off circle to make it 4-2. The Coyotes sealed the win with an empty net goal at 19:06 by Derrick Morris.
The young squad of Predators was without Marty Erat, who has been place don IR; Patric Hornqvist, who was out with an injured foot; and Mike Fisher, who has yet to play this season.
The youth of the Predators was victimized by, well, their youth. They spent much of the night chasing the puck and seemed to forget their discipline on too many occasions. That lack of discipline often resulted in good scoring chances for the Coyotes, and if not for the solid play of Pekka Rinne, the score could have been much worse. I really can't fault Rinne for any of the goals that were given up tonight, as many times he was under siege by the Coyotes.
On the other end, the Predators had some scoring chances early, but couldn't solve Jason Labarbera. Labarbera has been a Pred killer back to his days with the Kings. He continued his dominance over the Predators, making some very good saves early to keep the Predators off the board. For this young team, the ability to bury a shot early is critical to their psyche, and tonight, their psyche was severely bruised by the play of Labarbera and the Coyotes.
As I mentioned, this is what you get with a young squad. Some nights, they come out flying with energy and enthusiasm. Some nights, they fall off the bike and have to get back up and ride again. Tonight, they fell off the bike, numerous times, and had trouble staying on.
The team has an opportunity to rebound on Saturday night. I don't expect this young squad to come out and dominate. I do expect them to compete.
Tonight, they did not.
As with any young group, some painful lessons have to be learned. The game tonight will be of benefit to this team if they learn the painful lessons and bring the effort in their next contest.
Fail to do so, and the fall off the bike is going to be painful.
My three stars:
1. Jason Labarbera
2. Ray Whitney
3. Ryan Suter