Notching their second-straight road win, the Nashville Predators rode a re-awakened power play to a 5-1 triumph over the Arizona Coyotes.
Preds center Mike Fisher tied the game on the man advantage roughly seven minutes into the contest before James Neal added another goal right as a penalty expired four minutes later. Fisher’s marker stopped an 0-for-28 stretch on the power play for Nashville, whose last PP-goal came on Nov. 20 against the Ottawa Senators.
“I know for the guys it’s a big relief, and it’s important for us to have a power play that’s generating offense and making a difference,” Preds forward Matt Cullen said. “In this League, it’s hard to score 5-on-5, so when your power play is going, it’s a big lift. Tonight was a good step forward.”
Arizona opened the scoring with a power-play goal of their own from Antoine Vermette just four minutes into the game, but the NHL’s 27th-ranked defense gave up three-straight to Nashville to conclude the period. The loss extended a franchise-record, home-losing streak to eight games for the Coyotes.
The visiting club extended their lead to 5-1 in the third period with goals from Calle Jarnkrok and Olli Jokinen. The offensive outburst only helped to pad goaltender Pekka Rinne’s 31 saves for his League-leading 19th victory.
“You take a look at the board and it looks easy, but I don’t think it was at the time,” Rinne said. “It was a hard fought game and we just got timely goals. Any time you look at games like this and it’s 5-1, it seems easy, but we battled hard and got some big goals, like Fisher's first and Olli Jokinen to help seal it.”
Nashville tallied more than four goals for the second time in 2014-15, the first since their nine-goal mark against the Maple Leafs in November. The Predators head coach stressed how important a strong third period by his club was in closing out the tough, road victory.
“We didn’t score in the second period, so the message going into the third was to win the game 4-1,” Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “Make sure we get the next goal and play the way we need to play. At 3-1, that next goal is really crucial. If it goes to 4-1 or if it goes to 3-2, it gives them a little life and wakes the building up, and for me, the way we kept moving forward was what I wanted.”
Fisher’s power-play goal at the 6:57 mark of the opening period was a first on multiple levels. The tally was not only the forward’s first of the season, but also the club’s first power-play marker in eight games.
The 34-year-old center missed the opening 21 games of the 2014-15 campaign due to an Achilles injury, but has settled into the Preds second line center role in the seven games he’s played. Nashville’s first goal of the contest saw Fisher all alone in the low slot after Filip Forsberg reached and kept a Coyotes clearing attempt in the zone and chipped the biscuit to Shea Weber.
“We hemmed them in for quite a long time and got the penalty kill tired,” Fisher said. The guys did good job of moving around and there were some desperation plays there. Weber made a great play to get me the puck, and I just got a piece of it. To get one on the power play was great; it’s been a long time.”
The veteran forward has seen increased minutes, specifically on the half wall during Nashville’s power play opportunities, and Thursday, he helped the unit to get off the schnide.
“He does everything for us,” Matt Cullen said of Fisher. “He kills penalties and plays on the power play, he’s just a really good player. Anytime you can add a guy to your team like we did with him, it’s going to make you a lot better and that’s been showing.”
Laviolette commented he’s been pleased with Fisher’s play on both sides of the puck and said Thursday’s victory was the center’s time to step up and help the club claim two points.
“Fisher has been good; the last couple games I thought he’s been one of our strongest forwards,” Laviolette said. “Offensively, you get things to bounce some nights and Fisher was able to contribute tonight, but I thought overall he’s been very strong and stronger by the game. He gets noticed tonight because he scores, but he’s been very good for us.”
The Predators frustration with the man advantage was approaching futility until the club connected on essentially two opportunities against the Coyotes. No results on their previous 28 power play chances, defenseman Ryan Ellis called the lack of production concerning last week.
“I think [the power play] is becoming more of a concern,” Ellis said last Friday. “The first few games it was trying to get used to each other and finding the chemistry, and that’s what we’re still looking for. The deeper you go into the season, if nothing gets better then something has to change. But we’re working on it and we’re trying new things.”
But on Thursday, Fisher’s strike and then James Neal’s mid-air swat in the first period helped to ease past exasperation and erase an early Arizona advantage.
“We simplified things on the power play tonight and that helped,” forward Mike Ribeiro said. “The first one we got off a tip and the rest of the night we were going for rebounds and second-chance shots. Special teams are huge and the power play hasn’t been helping us much here recently, but if this is the start of us getting it going, then we’re going to be even harder to beat.”
“It was really good to see the power play moving around like that,” said Laviolette. “There were a lot of attempts and opportunities. I wouldn’t say it’s a ‘relief’ [to score a power-play goal], our guys have been playing the game right. Tonight, Fisher helps us, the game before the penalty kill does, and we always have Rinne there. It’s just everybody chipping in and finding wins on a nightly basis.”
With Thursday’s win, Predators General Manager David Poile collected victory No. 1,170 to tie Harry Sinden for second all-time in career wins by an NHL GM. After collecting two assists against Arizona, Filip Forsberg is now clicking at over a point-per-game pace with 29 points through 28 contests. Preds blueliner Roman Josi appeared in his 200th NHL game on Thursday. Gila River Arena (formerly Jobing.com Arena) remains the only venue outside of Bridgestone Arena where the Predators have concluded any of their nine playoff series (lost in five games to the Coyotes in 2012).