NASHVILLE – A season-opening three-game road trip proved to be a trying experience for the Phoenix Coyotes, but perhaps for no player as much as defenseman Rostislav Klesla.
Klesla's wife gave birth to a son, Rostislav Jr., last Thursday as the Coyotes were preparing for Saturday's opener in San Jose. With three days between Monday's game at Dallas and Thursday's visit to Nashville, Klesla took the opportunity to fly back to Phoenix and see his son.
That's a lot of flying, but Klesla looked none the worse for wear against the Predators.
On a team that had yet to score an even strength goal and was 0-1-1 through its first two games, Klesla's plus-4 performance in the Coyotes' 5-2 win against the Predators proved especially satisfying, as all five Phoenix goals came at even strength.
"He's spending time with his wife and trying to get her settled and get her home from the hospital," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said of Klesla, who entered the game minus-2. "He had a red-eye flight two nights ago, missed a practice, so it's great to see him have a great night like that."
Thirteen players hit the scoresheet for Phoenix (1-1-1) -- captain Shane Doan was the only one with a multiple-point night. Doan's empty-netter, his third goal of the season, with 1:11 left in regulation sealed it. Klesla picked up the assist on that goal, the 299th of Doan's career.
Phoenix led 4-0 just beyond the midpoint of the game, quieting the sellout crowd of 17,113 at Nashville's home opener.
"We were pressing pretty good," Klesla said. "The first period was exactly what we wanted. We wanted to take the crowd out of it. We knew it was a home opener for them so they would come hard so we played kind of the way we wanted to play and they had to just kind of watch us and we scored three. I think we could've even got more. (Nashville goalie Pekka) Rinne made some huge saves but it was a great lead."
Conversely, coach Barry Trotz called it an "awful" first period, as his team trailed 3-0 at intermission. Nashville won its first two on the road, but Thursday's performance spoiled the home debut before a sell-out crowd at Bridgestone Arena after the team's most successful playoff season in which the Preds advanced to the second round for the first time.
"Sometimes you need to get whupped a little bit to bring you back to reality," Trotz said. "I don't think we deserved the two wins on the road and we showed you why."
During pregame ceremonies, the scoreboard played a video in tribute to players and coaches who died in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash, including several former Preds and one of their draft picks. That was followed by a longer video of former Predator Wade Belak, who had been hired to work on the team's broadcasts but died during the summer -- evoking an emotional response.
When the game started, Nashville was mostly flat-footed, as Phoenix carried the play for most of the first period, earning a power play and outshooting Nashville 13-5 through the early going. The Coyotes connected on their 11th shot, with David Schlemko, stationed high along the left boards, sliding the puck under a diving Rinne at 8:00 after the puck pinballed around the Nashville zone and got Rinne out of position.
Ray Whitney ripped a slap shot high over Rinne's blocker at 14:28 for a 2-0 lead. He one-timed the puck from above the left circle after a nice feed by Daymond Langkow, who used his back to shield his body from a Nashville defender and shuffle the pass across.
Lauri Korpikoski finished the first-period scoring after the Coyotes executed a virtually flawless breakout from behind their own net and turned it into the scoring chance that the Finn deposited into the net from below the hash marks with a backhander. Linemates Boyd Gordon and Taylor Pyatt earned the assists, as Phoenix outshot Nashville 16-7 in the period.
Mikkel Boedker expanded the Phoenix lead to 4-0 when he took a pass from Martin Hanzal after getting past Preds defenseman Ryan Suter. Boedker collected the puck after it hit his skate, then skated by Rinne from close range and tucked the puck around him at 11:26 of the second period.
Nashville finally got on the board with 5:59 left in the period when killing a slashing penalty to Jordin Tootoo. With Matt Halischuk screening LaBarbera, Suter fired a slap shot from about 35 feet that found the net. Suter had 39 points last season but only four goals in 70 games. He has two in three already this season.
Nashville pulled to within 4-2 with 10:52 left in regulation when Colin Wilson converted a 2-on-1 down low with David Legwand, snapping in a shot from close range. Legwand assisted on both goals and has seven points in three games, tops in the League.
As it attempted to rally, Nashville earned a power play late in the second period that carried over into the third. Phoenix killed it, as it did all three Preds' power plays.
Goalie Jason LaBarbera was sharp while making 23 saves.
Phoenix kept Nashville defenseman Shea Weber, a Norris Trophy finalist whose 16 goals tied for fourth in the NHL last season among defenseman, off the board.
"Our PK was very good tonight, especially when you got Webs out there and he shoots the puck as hard as he does," Doan said. "Korpikoski drops and blocks one. He's one of our most skilled guys. When he blocks that, it just sets the tone for everybody."
Tippett put the 13 players' earning a point in perspective for a team that wins with a defense-first mentality.
"That's the kind of balance we're going to need," he said. "Right from the get-go, we need everybody to contribute and that's our team mindset, that's our team identity and it's great to see when it comes to the forefront."