It may not have been pretty, but the Nashville Predators stole a critical two points out of Phoenix tonight, keeping pace with Dallas, which won earlier in the day, and Minnesota and Edmonton, which lost in overtime.
The Preds got an early power play opportunity when Ken Klee boarded J.P. Dumont, and while they didn't score, Nashville at least had some good motion going on as opposed to the more typical, static setup that has performed so dismally all season.
Despite outshooting Phoenix 10-4 in the first period, Nashville didn't generate any particularly dangerous chances. It wasn't until the second that some coordinated opportunities did get created, mostly by the top line of Steve Sullivan with David Legwand and Martin Erat. Given that these were the #27 and #29 offenses in the NHL, perhaps it's not surprising how rare the good shots were. Overall, though, the pace of the game generally favored Nashville.
The second Predators power play came midway through the second, as Ryan Jones demonstrated why he's among the NHL leaders in Penalty Plus/Minus. Taking the puck from behind the goal line, he drove hard to the front of the net, forcing Coyotes blueliner Ed Jovanovski to haul him down. While the power play again went scoreless, a couple good plays were made, particularly with Joel Ward working the top of the crease looking for a rebound.
Shortly afterwards, at 14:01 of the 2nd, Dumont put the Preds up 1-0 on Nashville's 23rd shot of the game (to Phoenix's 7 at the time). Vern Fiddler cleanly won a faceoff back to Ryan Suter, who fed the puck down the boards to Sullivan. Sully then found Dumont up between the tops of the circles, and a quick wrister high to the short side blew by Coyotes goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. The play was notable due to the forward line, because up until that point, Joel Ward had been skating alongside Fiddler and Dumont.
About thirty seconds earlier, after Pekka Rinne stopped a shot from Shane Doan, the ensuing faceoff was deep in the Nashville zone. Barry Trotz put Legwand and Erat out there, but instead of Steve Sullivan he went with Scott Nichol, an outstanding faceoff man and reliable defensive performer. By the end of that shift, the next faceoff coming up was in the Phoenix end, so Trotz could get Sully out there with Dumont & Fiddler in an advantageous situation. It was a good example of putting players to maximize their particular skills, and it gave Nashville the lead.
The Preds continued to outpace the Coyotes and closed out the 2nd with a 25-8 shot advantage, but just the 1-0 advantage on the scoreboard. In the third, Phoenix came out like a much stronger team, getting more chances in the final period than they had in the first two combined. Late in the period, the Preds killed off one Coyotes power play, and appeared set to have to fight off another one, when J.P. Dumont clipped a Phoenix player with a pretty blatant high stick. None of the on-ice officials saw the foul, however, and Nashville got away with one as the Coyotes bench howled in protest (sorry, I just couldn't resist). As befits a desperate team, the Preds got an empty netter from David Legwand, then ran out the clock and got out of town quick.
Pekka Rinne ended up with 18 saves and his 7th shutout of the season, moving him all alone into 2nd place behind Columbus' Steve Mason. The road trip continues Monday at Los Angeles. For another perspective, Rachel at What the Puck has her recap.