Photo by John Russell
Paul Kariya congratulates Scott Hartnell following Hartnell's power-play goal midway through the second period.
Jason Arnott set up three goals to lead the Nashville Predators to their first win of the season--a 4-1 victory over the visiting Phoenix Coyotes Saturday night at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Four different Predators scored on a night in which the home side never trailed. With the win, the Predators move to 1-3 on the season and snap a three-game losing streak that opened the 2006-07 campaign.
"To go down 0-4 would have been pretty tough on the confidence for the whole team," Arnott said. "We came out right from the get-go ready to play, from [goaltender Tomas Vokoun] right out. It just showed that we were determined tonight and we've got to play that way every game from now on. There's no looking back. We've got to keep going forward."
The opening period fell into a rhythm early, as both teams were able to roll several lines before the first stoppage came at the 4:01 mark. "I think our team is best when we're rolling lines and playing five-on-five hockey," Predators forward Paul Kariya said. "We were able to do that early and that gave us the momentum."
Kariya opened the scoring at 6:49. He finished off a tic-tac-toe passing play that started with the puck zipping from Scott Hartnell atop the right circle in the offensive zone to Arnott above the left circle. Suddenly Arnott and Kariya were together against lone Phoenix defender Nick Boynton, and Kariya simply angled his stick to redirect Arnott's pass into the open right side of the net.
Six minutes later, the Predators extended the lead. Erat nearly turned the puck over with a risky backward pass high in the offensive zone, but Nashville recovered and sent the puck deeper into Erat. The Czech winger walked in from the right corner and held the puck until he was able to slide it to the left of kneeling goaltender Curtis Joseph at 12:53.
At the 14:15 mark, play was stopped as Nashville's Darcy Hordichuk and Phoenix's Josh Gratton squared off in the neutral zone in a tremendous fight. Both tough guys were throwing rapid-fire punches--and connecting with a number of them--until the drained combatants tied each other up and waited for linesmen to step in and separate them. The bout was a harbinger of things to come later in the game.
Phoenix drew within one as the first period drew to a close. An interference penalty to Erat at 15:56 put Nashville down a man. The Predators' penalty killing unit of Jerred Smithson, Hartnell, Ryan Suter and Mikko Lehtonen were exhausted and looking for a clear by the time defenseman Keith Yandle found Fredrik Sjostrom in the right circle for shot that beat Vokoun high through traffic. The power-play marker, which made it 2-1, came at 17:47--nine seconds before Erat's two-minute minor would have expired. The Predators killed off Phoenix's other three opportunities with the man advantage during the game.
"We did a really good job killing penalties," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. "The one goal that they did get, we killed it off for like 1:45 or something like that. That's sort of been a trend. If you look at all the power-play goals that we've given up, we usually kill about 1:30 of it and then they score in the last 30 seconds it seems."
The Predators netted a power-play goal of their own 10:28 into the second period, when Scott Hartnell tipped Kimmo Timonen's point shot past Joseph from in front of the net. As the play developed from the right corner, Hartnell moved to the low slot, opening up passing lanes for the umbrella of David Legwand, Shea Weber and Timonen. Legwand sent a pass to Weber from the right side, and Weber simply tap-passed the puck back to Timonen at the point of the umbrella. Timonen fired and the puck ended up in the net. The goal was originally credited to Timonen but was eventually given to Hartnell after review.
Photo by John Russell
Predators goaltender Tomas Vokoun, seen here turning away a shot from Phoenix captain Shane Doan, showed a return to form Saturday. He stopped 29 of 30 shots.
Two minutes later, Paul Kariya backhanded a pass to rearguard Ryan Suter, who was overlapping down the right side wall. Suter angled in and released a shot on Joseph that pinballed off the goalie's pads and then Coyote winger Enver Lisin's skate before ending up in the net. Suter's first of the season made it 4-1 at 12:28.
The Coyotes never tucked tail and ran, though. Vokoun was forced to make big saves on Ladislav Nagy and Shane Doan in the final five minutes of the second period, then he held the fort as Phoenix outshot the Predators 16-4 in the final 20 minutes.
"I thought Tomas played really good," Trotz said. "He didn't get a lot of shots early, and then at the end of the game when we had a nice lead we sort of left him out there to fend for himself a little bit. I thought he responded quite strongly and made some big saves for us--a couple toward the end of the second period and I thought he was real strong in the third. I was really happy that he battled through that. It looks like he's back and that's fantastic."
Vokoun, who admitted struggling in his first few games, stopped 29 of 30 Coyotes shots Saturday to secure his first victory of the season. His counterpart, Joseph, allowed four goals on 25 Nashville shots.
While the third period had no scoring, there was no shortage of rough-and-tumble hockey. The Coyotes took out their frustrations on Predators players and sparked more fisticuffs in the process. Four minutes into the final period, Hordichuk was injured by Gratton in a corner, prompting Hordichuk's linemate Jerred Smithson to challenge Gratton in front of Nashville's bench. As that fight concluded, Jordin Tootoo and Nick Boynton began exchanging blows on the other side of the rink. Weber and Jeremy Roenick paired off as well and nearly fought, but tensions cooled. Six and a half minutes later, a collision between Gratton and Preds defenseman Dan Hamhuis prompted a gathering of players that eventually led to a bout between Vern Fiddler and Derek Morris. Morris was ejected from the remainder of the contest after being penalized for instigating the fracas.
"Games always usually do that if [the opponent is] down," Arnott said of the chippy finish. "They're battling for a win as well as we are. That's hockey. That stuff happens."
Now the Predators hit the road for a stretch of three games in four nights. They'll visit the New York Islanders Monday (6:30 p.m. CT), the New York Rangers Wednesday (6:00 p.m.) and the New Jersey Devils Thursday (6:30 p.m.). The club will return to Nashville next Saturday for a match-up with the Vancouver Canucks.
NOTES: Kimmo Timonen posted an assist Saturday and now has franchise-record 249 points (67g-182a). At 497 games played in a Nashville uniform, he is five matches shy of Greg Johnson's franchise mark. The Predators' captain logged a team-high 26:53 vs. Phoenix... With three assists in Saturday's game, center Jason Arnott now has points in three consecutive games (1g-4a=5pts). He was also the best player from either team on face-offs Saturday, winning 13 of 19 (68 percent)... Arnott and Paul Kariya each finished the game +3... Defenseman Ryan Suter, who scored his first goal of the season Saturday and now has four points (1g-3a) in four games, is the only Predator to have a plus rating in each of Nashville's first four contests... Defenseman Mikko Lehtonen blocked a game-high four shots... Nashville's penalty killers, who allowed seven goals on 10 short-handed chances in the first two games, have now killed off seven of eight power-plays in the last two games... Scott Nichol, Scottie Upshall and Greg Zanon were scratched from Nashville's lineup for Saturday's game... Attendance was 13,770.