Photo by John Russell
Goaltender Tomas Vokoun, seen here stopping Phoenix forward Shane Doan, made 24 saves to earn his second straight shutout.
Darcy Hordichuk scored his sixth goal of the season and Adam Hall netted a power-play tally to provide the offense, while the defense clamped down on the visiting Phoenix Coyotes to help Tomas Vokoun earn his second consecutive shutout Thursday night at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. The Predators have now won four in a row at home, and have not yielded a regulation loss in seven straight games. Nashville's record improves to 39-19-8, setting a new franchise mark for wins in a season.
Defenseman Brendan Witt, acquired by the Predators at the trade deadline, was a strong presence, earning 2nd Star honors. The entire team, though, played a hard-working and conscientious brand of hockey.
"We played smarter, and obviously not giving up a goal is always a sign of playing well--not just me," Vokoun said. "Brendan [Witt] came in and he's playing great. He had a couple of big blocks today and he's hitting guys, playing well. I think with him in the lineup, it takes the pressure off [defenseman Dan Hamhuis] and guys like that. That's what they need. They're young guys. You can't rely on them all the time. If you get a veteran guy, he takes the pressure. And everybody's playing better. We're still missing a couple of guys [due to injuries] and we're doing fairly well, so that's a sign of being on the right path."
Indeed, the Predators came out strong on both ends of the ice in the opening period. The line of Mike Sillinger, Paul Kariya and Jordin Tootoo was particularly sharp early, generating chances like the one at the 7:00 mark, when Tootoo blocked a defender down low to create a lane for a pass that reached Kariya storming down the slot. Kariya unleashed a good shot that was outmatched by a fabulous save from Coyotes goaltender Curtis Joseph. Meanwhile, an example of Witt's value could be seen a minute later, when he stepped up and delivered a hit on Oleg Saprykin to separate the Phoenix forward from the puck and short-circuit a dangerous rush.
But Nashville really wrested control of the game when Hordichuk found the net at 10:50 of the first. The Predators were in the midst of a line change during which Hordichuk's regular linemates, Jerred Smithson and Scott Hartnell, left the ice, and first-liners Mike Sillinger and Jordin Tootoo stepped on. "I think [Smithson and Hartnell] just had a good chance to change and I was going to go and forecheck there," Hordichuk said. "I was getting ready to come off and I saw that I had a great opportunity to get in the play there and make something happen."
Seconds later, Hordichuk was in the left corner when Tootoo took a puck off the left-side wall and passed it to Sillinger at the top of the left circle. Sillinger then sent the puck down low to Hordichuk, who charged in along the goal line and put a low--and low percentage--shot on net. The puck hit Joseph's skate and caromed into the net, giving Nashville the 1-0 lead.
Photo by John Russell
Mike Sillinger and other Predators congratulate Darcy Hordichuk on his first-period goal. It was the second game-winner of his career.
"When you throw pucks to the net, good things happen," said Hordichuk, whose production this season has far surpassed his previous career highs.
"I'm very happy with that," the hard-hitting winger said. "I've got 11 points. For the time that I've been getting on the ice, I think it's been great. I've been contributing. This is a season high for me. In the past I don't think I've had half as many points. I think that I'm kind of breaking out and I'm showing that I'm not just a tough guy. I can play the game and it's just a matter of getting everybody to believe that."
Moments later Predators forward Scottie Upshall drew a penalty while on a two-on-one break. Nashville looked good on its first power play of the game, finishing off the fruitless two-minute advantage with a tic-tac-toe passing play that started with Steve Sullivan and progressed through Marek Zidlicky and Sillinger before culminating with a shot from Kariya. Joseph was equal to the test.
The Predators didn't come up empty on their second power play, however, as some more slick passing between Sullivan and Hartnell on the left side set up Hall in front for his 12th goal of the season. "Sullivan did a great job showing poise on the half wall there," Hall said of the play. "The back and forth with Hartnell was drawing the players over to that side. Scott just did a great job threading the needle through the [defender]'s legs to find me open."
Though the Predators failed to bury a number of chances throughout the game, two goals proved more than enough to top the Coyotes, who came on stronger in the third but really didn't threaten Nashville's grip on the contest. Phoenix outshot the hosts, but only by a slim 24-23 margin. Vokoun stepped up with big saves as needed, the most impressive of which saw him move laterally right to left to get his left leg pad in front of a quality scoring chance by Mike Ricci.
"You can only say it so many different ways about the guy," Hall said of Vokoun. "He's been there for us all season long and he did a great job. He definitely deserved the shutout tonight."
Notes: Goaltender Tomas Vokoun's shutout streak stands at 120:00 overall, and 157:45 at home. The latter ranks as the second longest shutout streak at home in team history (163:24 is the franchise record, set 2/20-3/1/03). Vokoun is 33-14-7 this season, one win away from tying his career high set in 2003-04. He is 5-0-2 in his last seven appearances... Darcy Hordichuk's goal held up to be his first game-winning tally of this season and the second of his career... Jordin Tootoo, who assisted on Hordichuk's goal, now has a point in each of his last two games (1g-1a)... After tallying two points (1g-1a) in his first seven games with Nashville, Mike Sillinger--who assisted on Hordichuk's goal--now has five points since the Olympic break (eight games)... Adam Hall's goal gives him a point in each of his last two games (1g-1a). Nine of Hall's 12 goals this season have come on the power play--a single-season high... Scott Hartnell assisted on Hall's goal and now has three points (2g-1a) in his last two games... Steve Sullivan assisted on Hall's goal as well, extending his point streak to five games. He has 10 points (2g-8a) over that span... Nashville's power play went one-for-four while the penalty killers defused the Coyotes power play seven out of seven times. The penalty killers have gone 15-for-15 over the last two games and 27-of-29 over the last four... The Predators are 24-0-4 when leading after two periods... Nashville is 20 games over .500 for the first time in franchise history... The Predators' home record improves to 25-6-1, the second best in the NHL... Nashville is 5-0-2 in its last seven games... The Predators have 203 goals for this season, 13 short of tying the franchise record set in 2003-04... Marek Zidlicky and Brendan Witt paced Nashville with a game-high four hits each... The last two games have been shutout wins for Vokoun, which means DEX Imaging has donated $300 in each game, for a total of $600, to benefit Pencil Foundation as part of the DEX Score and Win Program... Scott Nichol and Vern Fiddler were scratches for Nashville.
Video: Watch the game highlights (:38)
Audio: Listen to head coach Barry Trotz's post-game press conference (4:54)
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