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Predators overwhelm struggling Coyotes

by Jerry Brown

GLENDALE, Ariz. - Mike Fisher, James Neal and Ryan Ellis scored goals in an 11:33 span of the first period, and the Nashville Predators cruised to a 5-1 victory against the reeling Arizona Coyotes on Thursday.

Pekka Rinne allowed an early goal but made 31 saves, helping the Predators win for the seventh time in nine games. The five goals scored by the Predators represent their second-highest total of the season; Nashville had nine in a 9-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Nov. 18.

Calle Jarnkrok and Olli Jokinen scored insurance goals for Nashville in the third period.

Antoine Vermette gave the Coyotes an early lead, but Arizona lost its eighth straight game at Gila River Arena (0-6-2), extending a franchise record for futility at home. The Coyotes have been outscored 17-3 in their past four home games, all regulation losses.

The Coyotes have lost seven of eight overall (1-6-1) including the first three of this five-game homestand. Mike Smith made 33 saves but saw his record fall to 5-14-2.

Arizona got off to a good start, drawing a holding penalty by Nashville defenseman Shea Weber 3:40 after the opening faceoff and capitalizing on the power play. Vermette took a pass from Mikkel Boedker between the circles and beat Rinne over the glove with a high wrist shot at 4:11. It was Vermette's seventh goal of the season and the fourth power-play goal allowed by the Predators in 36 chances during a 16-game span.

But the Predators shook off the early deficit and dominated the rest of the period, outshooting the Coyotes 12-3 and scoring three times.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson's holding penalty 47 seconds after Vermette's goal gave Nashville a power play. Defenseman Michael Stone had his stick broken by a Weber slap shot and was defenseless in front when Weber slid a pass by him and onto the stick of Fisher for an easy redirection at 6:57. It was the first goal of the season for Fisher, who missed the first 22 games recovering from an Achilles tendon injury.

Fisher set up the go-ahead goal at 11:06. Smith stopped his shot from the right circle, but the rebound popped into the air, deflected off the hard-charging Neal and fluttered into the net. Neal has 11 goals and has scored in back-to-back games after going nine games without a goal.

It was Neal's turn to play set-up man at 18:30. He drove hard down the left side before sliding a pass across the crease. Ellis outmuscled Arizona defenseman Keith Yandle in the blue paint for an easy tap-in to give Nashville a two-goal lead and control of the game.

Rinne made big saves on Yandle in the second period and Vermette on a power play early in the third to keep the two-goal lead intact. The Predators then put the game away when Jarnkrok dove into the crease to push home Gabriel Bourque's rebound at 2:43 and Jokinen got his second of the season at 7:20 when a puck deflected off his skates and went between Smith's pads.

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