Four different Predators found the back of the net - and Juuse Saros was stellar again - as Nashville defeated the Arizona Coyotes by a 4-2 final on Saturday night at Gila River Arena. The result gives the Preds a perfect road trip - three victories and six points - and a four-game win streak to begin 2022.
Without their top goal-scorer Filip Forsberg, who was added to the NHL's COVID-19 protocol list prior to Saturday's contest, the Predators found contributions elsewhere and got clutch goaltending once more to top their new division rivals in the desert in a penalty-filled affair.
Mattias Ekholm, Yakov Trenin, Tanner Jeannot and Roman Josi all found twine, and Saros made 37 saves - for a grand total of 124 stops through three games - to give the Preds six more points to bring home atop the Central Division.
The Preds found the scoreboard three times in the game's opening 20 minutes, and Ekholm only waited 56 seconds to follow up a rebound and jam the puck past Coyotes goaltender Karel Vejmelka and a 1-0 lead. Later in the first frame, Trenin scored his third goal in as many games on the trip as he wristed a shot home from above the right circle, and less than two minutes after that, Matt Duchene found Jeannot for a tap-in at the side of the cage and a 3-0 lead.
Video: NSH@ARI: Ekholm buries rebound for quick tally
Neither team converted in the second stanza, but early in the third period, Clayton Keller solved Saros to give the Coyotes life, and while Josi and Lawson Crouse traded two more tallies in the final frame, Nashville prevailed once more for the 12th time in their last 15 outings.
Three wins and six points out west equates to one happy hockey club.
The Predators did just that as they collected victories through Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Arizona over the past week, and the final installment of the excursion saw yet another stellar performance from goaltender Juuse Saros and a win in a "culture" game for Nashville.
"I give a lot of credit to the guys," Preds Head Coach John Hynes said. "We talked with our leadership group about kind of setting the tone and the mindset to be ready to play. [We've played] seven games in 11 days [overall], a long road trip with two wins, and part of it was just making sure that, within the room, that the guys are mentally ready to play… I give the leaders of the team a lot of credit. They did a good job, and the team in general was certainly ready to play in the first period. The second period wasn't what we wanted it to be, but we addressed it in between the second and third period, and the guys have to go execute, play hard and foster the emotion, and I thought guys did what they needed to do tonight to win the hockey game."
Video: NSH@ARI: Trenin scores in 1st period
"That was kind of the big emphasis coming into this: knowing we need to prepare, not look at the standings and not look at where we're at, just treat this as one game and come out flying," Preds defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. "I thought we did a pretty good job in the first… And obviously we have a great goaltender back there, too. He's helping us out every night. It was a good one and a great road trip."
The Predators had talked about their three-game trip from the outset as an excellent test for the group, and after a tone-setting win in Vegas on Tuesday, another victory in Los Angeles set up the chance to go 3-for-3 by the time the week was done.
After Friday's practice in Arizona, Hynes called the meeting with the Coyotes a "culture" game - the chance to see how the team would respond with an opportunity to either call it a good trip or a great trip by the end of the night on Saturday.
The Preds responded with a goal and a fight within the first minute in Arizona, and although their effort wasn't perfect, nothing ever really is in this sport, especially away from home - but they found a way once more.
Video: NSH@ARI: Josi scores PPG in 3rd period
"There's no easy games in the NHL," Preds Captain Roman Josi said. "[Arizona's] record is not that great, but they're a tough team to play against. No team is easy to play against, and you saw it tonight. There was a tight game, and of course Juice was the usual, amazing.... We knew it was going to be a hard game. Like I said, there's no easy games. It's a good team over there. They played hard, and then we found a way to win it, so it's definitely huge for our group."
And, as usual, Saros was excellent - the biggest reason for Nashville's success over the past six days.
"Huge - he's the biggest reason [for the wins]," Josi said of Saros. "I mean, he's unbelievable. You saw it all year. I think there's no better goalie in the world than him. Every night he's giving us a chance to win. It's kind of unbelievable how consistent he is. I think it's almost underappreciated. He only has good games. I can't remember one game where he wasn't on, and like I said, I think he's the best goalie in the world right now. He should definitely get some love for that."
From here, the Predators will head home for another divisional tilt on Tuesday as Colorado comes to town, and the road-weary club will take the lessons learned as they look to extend their lead atop the Central - a mark that no one on the outside saw coming at this juncture.
"[We've done] a good job of playing the same way and not getting frustrated and not getting frustrated about the losses that we had [early in the season]," Josi said. "We just kept playing and the wins came, and from then on I think we kind of realized what makes us successful. We've just been playing like that for a long time - and obviously you have a guy like Juice in net that gives you a chance to win every night."
Highlight of the Night:
Video: NSH@ARI: Duchene, Jeannot team up to extend lead
They Said It:
Mattias Ekholm on Juuse Saros:
"I mean, he's got to be a top-two, top-three goaltender in the world right now. The way he's playing with consistency, it's like he's through the roof every night and he gives us the chance to win... There's not enough you can say about him, to be honest."
Tanner Jeannot now leads all NHL rookies with 11 goals this season.
Forward joined Predators defenseman Dante Fabbro on the NHL's COVID-19 protocol list; Fabbro has now missed the last four games due to the protocol.
Forward Matt Luff was recalled from the taxi squad prior to Saturday's game, and forward Philip Tomasino rejoined the lineup with Forsberg out. Defenseman Ben Harpur was Nashville's lone healthy scratch on Saturday.
With their three-game trip now complete, the Predators will return home for a pair starting on Tuesday night when they host the Colorado Avalanche at Bridgestone Arena for an important divisional contest.
Video: Predators score three in 1st in 4-2 win against Yotes