The Nashville Predators must feel that they are looking in the mirror when they play the Phoenix Coyotes. Both teams are aggressive on their forecheck, play tough defense, and have good goaltending. Often their contests are a punch/counter-punch affair, with each team looking to capitalize off the others mistakes.
This game, at least early on, was just this type of affair.
Nashville had newly signed and extended Pekka Rinne in net, while the Coyotes countered with Predator killer Jason Labarbera in goal for this contest at Jobing.com Arena.
Both teams played to a scoreless first period, with the Predators outshooting the Coyotes 11-8. Neither team could solve the play of the goaltenders and spent the first 20 minutes in the aforementioned punch/counter-punch mode.
That would change in the second period as Jonathan Blum cracked the scoreboard first for the Predators with a low shot through traffic with Matt Halischuk screening that eluded Labarbera at 8:01 to make it 1-0. This was Blum's first goal of the season.
The Predators would extend the lead to 2-0 as Craig Smith continued his electrifying play with a hard drive to the net and a nice feed to Matt Haslischuk. Halischuk lifted a backhand shot over the pads of Labarbera to make it 2-0 at 16:04 of the second.
Once again, the Predators had the dreaded third period lead to protect.
The Predators opened the third period with great pressure on Labarbera, taking the first 3 shots of the period and generating good pressure. That effort was short circuited with a questionable interference call on Ryan Suter.
Once again, the Predators PK unit was solid and managed to kill off the penalty.
After the opening burst by the Predators, they proceeded to spend the next ten minutes of the period sitting back on their heels and letting the Coyotes come through the neutral zone with ease and spend way too much time in the Predators zone. This is annoyingly too common for this team.
The Predators managed to hold off the Coyotes with some great saves by Rinne and some fortuitous defense in front of Rinne.
Patric Hornqvist tallied an empty net goal at 19:01 to make it 3-0 Predators and his 4th goal in as many games to seal the win for the Predators.
Pekka Rinne celebrated his birthday and the new contract with his 23rd career shutout.
For the game, the Coyotes out shot the Predators 35-32. The positive aspect of this is although the Predators were once again out shot, the shot differential is narrowing substantially.
With the win, the Predators go to 6-4-2.
The Predators are showing signs of progress. There play through the first two periods was solid. The concern remains the about the mentality of sitting back on a lead. In the third period, there were stretches where this happened, and this has to stop. The Predators did generate some good pressure in spurts, but it must be more consistent throughout the period.
More growing is to come for this team, but they are making significant progress toward playing more consistently and playing Predator hockey.
The key for this team is to keep building on this progress.
My three stars:
1. Pekka Rinne
2. Matt Halischuk
3. Jonathan Blum