Tonight the Nashville Predators took the ice at Gila River Arena to face off against the Arizona Coyotes in a game that appeared on paper to be a nearly guaranteed win. The Coyotes had a 7-22-3 record so far in the season and sit at the bottom of the Central Division with a mere 17 points. Nashville entered this game at the opposite end of that Central Division ranking, holding the top spot by one point over the St. Louis Blues and a charging Colorado Avalanche. In a game that seemed to be a sure thing, could Nashville fall victim to a “trap game”?
The Predators were without red-hot forward Filip Forsberg, who was placed in COVID protocol before the game. Head Coach John Hynes slotted Tanner Jeannot in with Matt Duchene and Mikael Granlund and added Nick Cousins to the “Herd Line” in place of Jeannot. Juuse Saros, who has been red-hot himself, took his place between the pipes.
Despite a roster boasting Phil Kessel, Clayton Keller, and Shayne Gostisbehere, the Coyotes have struggled to find success this season. The challenges are not just in five-on five-play; Arizona’s special teams have been porous as well. Karel Vejmelka, a former draftee of Nashville, started in net for the Coyotes. Could Nashville capitalize on Arizona’s weaknesses or would this be a game taken too lightly that could lead to disaster?
The first shot of the game belonged to Arizona, but it was easily handled and covered by Saros. The first goal of the game belonged to Nashville, as Johansen and Tolvanen had a two-on-one. Johansen dropped the puck to a trailing Kunin, and the goal was ultimately scored by Ekholm cleaning up the rebound at :56.
As the ref dropped the puck after the opening score, Mark Borowiecki and Arizona’s Liam O’Brien dropped the gloves for a very brief O’Brien smackdown. Both headed to the sin bin to repent for five minutes. Boro and O’Brien weren’t alone in their respective boxes for long as Ekholm and Phil Kessel joined them at 2:37, each serving two minutes for slashing. The teams shifted to four on four play with Nashville pressuring much of that time, but neither team capitalized.
Matt Luff and Arizona’s Dysin Mayo headed to the penalty box after an altercation of their own at 6:28, sending teams back to four on four play. Roman Josi and Matt Duchene both tested Vejmelka, but neither found the back of the net.
Arizona got the first chance at a power play as Alexandre Carrier was called for tripping at 11:05. Arizona threatened on a rush into the o-zone and drew a second tripping penalty compliments of Luke Kunin, putting the Coyotes on a two-man advantage for 21 seconds. Nashville buckled down and killed off both penalties with no harm done.
With the Preds apparently unable to squash the rumor of snacks in the sin bin, Ryan Johansen decided to check for himself after being called for a slash at 15:26. Not wanting to miss out on any cookies in his own team's box, Johan Larsson went in search of snacks after an interference call, sending the teams back to the now familiar four on four. With just :04 left in the four-on-four, Yakov Trenin sent the puck sailing past Vejmelka to make the game 2-0.
Matt Duchene made a gorgeous pass to a streaking Tanner Jeannot who buried the puck to bring the score to 3-0 at 18:56.
The parade to the penalty box continued at 19:09 as Ladd was called for interference against Luke Kunin, giving the Predators the remainder of the period on a power play. Unable to quell his curiosity, Mikael Granlund headed to the penalty box at 19:22 for holding the stick of a Coyote player on the power play, returning the game to four on four, where the teams remained as the period ended.
The remainder of four on four play opened the second period. With just :14 left in the four on four Tanner Jeannot was called for high sticking at :56, giving Arizona a brief 4 on 3 chance. The Predators survived being down two players and went to work killing Arizona’s power play. Nashville was able to survive the 4-on-3 turned 5-on-3 turned 5-on-4, and the teams finally returned to five a side.
The Predators kept up their physical pressure against a frustrated Coyotes team. Saros held firm in net. The game took on a slightly chaotic feel, similar to the Kings game on Thursday night during that penalty-less stretch as neither team could establish substantial offensive zone time.
Nashville caught a break in action after Matt Duchene was high sticked by Larsson at 13:48, giving the Predators a power play chance. The best chance on the power play came for Arizona’s Boyd on a shorthanded attempt, but Saros easily gloved the puck before any damage was done, and the teams returned to their chaotic five on five play for the remainder of the period.
The final period started with a slightly less chaotic pace for both teams. Clayton Keller took a faceoff shot that ricocheted off of Saros’s helmet and bounced in the goal for the Coyotes’ first goal of the game at 2:19 in the third.
Yakov Trenin’s physical play on Clayton Keller raised the ire of Andrew Ladd, who busted in to fight Trenin at 2:44. Trenin earned two for roughing and five for fighting, and Ladd earned some extra time for instigating. The Predators ended up with a power play chance. Nashville had some good early looks on the man advantage, but two snapped sticks thwarted the Preds and the teams returned to five a side.
Clearly not having had enough time to fully explore the depths of the penalty box, Liam O’Brien was sent back to the sin bin at 6:10 for roughing, giving the Predators their sixth power play chance. After struggling to gain composure, Roman Josi sent the puck sailing past the goalie at 7:25 to make the game 4-1.
The Coyotes pressured offensively, and at 10:48 Lawson Crouse tapped the puck past Juuse Saros. The goal was in question after one referee called a high stick. While the referees sorted the goal (and call on the ice that apparently was ignored), Tanner Jeannot and Liam O’Brien were tossed out of the game for misconduct after some chirping that apparently went wrong. John Hynes firmly asked the referees to review the call on the ice, but instead of getting a review from Toronto, Hynes ended up with a delay of game penalty, giving Arizona yet another power play and a second goal.
Just when you think things can’t get any more chaotic, Christian Fischer was called for a faceoff violation at 12:20, returning this game of penalties to four on four.
With just 3:40 left, the Coyotes went empty net to play with a man advantage, but the Predators tightened up defensively and held off the final push, winning the game 4-2.
- There are no snacks in the sin bin. I’m tempted to make a T-shirt that says this. It is one thing if the Predators’ style of physical play occasionally lands them in the penalty box, but too many of the calls tonight (25 total for both teams combined) were sloppy play calls. There are very few games in which a team can commit this many penalties and not have it cost two points in the end.
- Composure will be key coming up. After this messy game, the Predators return home to take on the Colorado Avalanche Tuesday, and Nashville will need to play with much more composure to beat a tough Colorado team.
- Take two points and get outta Glendale. Some games you just need to sleep off like a bad hangover. This is that kind of game.