By: Chad Lynch
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
On Thursday night, the Phoenix Coyotes fell to the Nashville Predators by the score of 2-0.
The first half of the opening period was largely a tight checking game, with neither club finding much in the way of quality scoring chances. When the Predators were able to get into the Phoenix zone, the stingy Coyotes defense turned the attack away before the pressure could reach goaltender Curtis Joseph.
At the other end of the ice, netminder Tomas Vokoun received good protection as well. When the Coyotes set up in the offensive zone, the Predators moved quickly to close off passing lanes, forcing hurried puck movement and turnovers, leading to clearings into the neutral zone.
Midway through the first, the defensive battle was abruptly ended when Darcy Hordichuck broke into the Coyotes zone on a two-on-one with Mike Sillinger. After defenseman Keith Ballard took the pass to Sillinger away, Hordichuck immediately fired the puck on net, keeping Joseph from having time to get set, as a result, Hordichuck's shot beat Joseph and gave the Predators a 1-0 lead.
With 3:16 to play in the first, the Coyotes went on the power play after Nashville's Shea Weber was called for roughing as the result of a hit on Fredrik Sjostrom along the right-hand boards in the Predators zone. Phoenix would get a good set up going in the offensive zone, but they couldn't get enough pucks to the net to solve Vokoun as the penalty expired and the teams returned to five-on-five hockey.
The final minute of the first period would expire without further scoring as the Coyotes headed off the ice after 20-minutes of play, trailing 1-0.
The second period began in much the same fashion as the first with the two clubs failing to produce many scoring chances. The biggest difference was that phoenix was stepping up their pressure offensively, but the Predators, as they are known to do, adopted a heavily biased defensive strategy to protect their one goal lead. By falling back into a defense-first style of play, Nashville sacrificed some offensive ability, but helped hold off the Coyotes attack.
The Coyotes came within inches of tying the game with 10:40 to play in the second when Fredrik Sjostrom's shot beat Vokoun, but hit the goal post and deflected away from the net.
With just over eight minutes to play in the middle stanza, the Predators began to push back on the Coyotes and as a result moved the puck into the Phoenix zone where Mike Sillinger ripped a slap shot from the right face-off circle, but "Cujo" was able to grab the puck with his glove before the Predators could add to their lead.
At 12:13 of the second, Phoenix went back on the man-advantage when the Predators' Darcy Hordichuck was called for interference after a hit on Dave Scatchard. With the extra attacker, Phoenix posted their best pressure of the night with a series of shots on net and a good attempt to crash the Nashville goal, but the Coyotes still could not find a way past Vokoun and the score remained 1-0 heading into the final five minutes of play.
With 4:32 left in the second, the Coyotes had their best scoring chance of the game when Dave Scatchard and Mike Ricci gained the Nashville zone on a two-on-one. Scatchard passed the puck to Ricci, who tried to stuff it into the net, but was stopped by the leg pad of Vokoun, keeping Phoenix off the scoreboard.
Late in the period, with Phoenix's Mike Johnson in the penalty box for tripping, the Predators went on the offensive and eventually capitalized at 18:30 of the second when Nashville's Adam Hill received a pass in the slot and swept the puck past Joseph for a 2-0 Predators lead.
With only 14-seconds left in the period, the Coyotes drew another penalty as Ryan Suter was called for hooking. Phoenix would fail to convert in the final seconds of the period, but would carry over 1:46 of power play time to start the third.
The Coyotes began the third period on the man-advantage, but with the two-goal lead, Nashville went into a version of the trap and they quelled the pressure that Phoenix continually tried to initiate as the Predators returned to full strength.
Over the course of the next seven minutes, both teams ran into struggles trying to cross center-ice as Nashville played to protect their lead and the Coyotes were obviously playing with a greater sense of desperation as they tried to pull within a goal of the Predators.
At 9:25 of the third, it appeared as though the Coyotes were going to have a chance to climb back into the game when Nashville's Martin Erat was sent to the box for holding. However, the power play would be short-lived as Coyotes defenseman Paul Mara was called for holding as well, just a minute later.
The Coyotes received a late power play at 16:36 of the third when Kimmo Timonen was assessed a holding penalty. After the first 30 seconds of the penalty had expired, the Coyotes were able to get a face-off in the Nashville zone and at that time pulled Joseph from the net in favor of the extra attacker. Yet even with the sixth forward, Vokoun was unbeatable, moving from side-to-side to cut down angles and covering all loose pucks in the crease before the Coyotes had a chance to try and poke them into the net.
With 27 seconds left in regulation, Phoenix defenseman Derek Morris was sent to the box for slashing after he used his stick to prevent Nashville's Paul Karyia from firing the puck into the empty Coyotes net.
Facing a penalty kill situation with less than a minute to play the Coyotes could only watch as Vokoun solidified his shutout and the Predators held on for a 2-0 victory.