The Nashville Predators continue their lengthy road swing with a contest in the desert against the Phoenix Coyotes. The Predators enter the tilt with a 1-1-3 record and some serious questions to answer.
Patric Hornqvist has been lost for 3-4 weeks with a sprained knee after being injured when Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks fell on his knee in their previous game. The first question the Predators have to answer is who is going to step up and fill the roll of Hornqvist as a gritty presence in front of the net?
The longer term question- but equally important for the Predators- is what will it take to get their offense untracked? There have been stretches where the offense has been invisible, and the team is struggling to put the puck in the net. The Predators have to get balanced scoring out of their roster, and right now, the offense is sputtering. The quicker that question can be answered, the quicker the Predators get on track and keep pace with their rivals in the Central Division.
The Predators had Pekka Rinne in net, while the Coyotes went with Chad Johnson in his first NHL game of the season.
The Predators did not get the start they wanted as Antoine Vermette beat Pekka Rinne high glove side just 3 minutes into the game. Vermette just blasted a shot past Rinne from the face off circle, who had a good look but could not stop the puck.
The first period ended with the Coyotes leading 1-0 and the Predators still struggling to find any offensive push. The shots on goal were 6-3 for the Coyotes, a testament to the ineptness of the Predators offense.
The second period saw Pekka Rinne make two huge saves to keep the Coyotes off the board, one of which was a point blank stop from right in front of the net. Meanwhile, the Predators were never seriously threatening Johnson in the Phoenix net.
The Predators started skating and getting shots on net, but did not get quality scoring chances. Meanwhile, the Coyotes won a face off in the Predators zone and fired a shot on Rinne that he blocked but could not control. The Predators looked to have control of the puck, but lost it in traffic. The puck squirted to Lauri Korpikoski and he rifled the puck into the net to give the Coyotes a 2-0 lead at 16:48.
After two periods, the shots on goal were 13-10 for the Coyotes. If the Predators were going to have a chance to get back in this game, their offense was going to have to get going in the third period. Too often in the first two periods, the Predators had few quality scoring chances and were many times one shot and done. The Preds needed to get shots on goal and traffic to the net.
The third period saw the Predators begin to activate their defensemen in an attempt to create some offense, but Johnson was able to see the shots cleanly and rarely gave up a rebound. The Coyotes defense was doing a good job of clearing the front of the net, and although the Predators out shot the Coyotes 5-1 early in the period, they rarely had a second chance scoring opportunity.
The Coyotes took a 3-0 lead at 11:34 of the third period as a back pass from David Legwand was intercepted and started a 4 on 2 rush. Nick Johnson took a pass from Keith Yandle and buried the shot to give the Coyotes an insurmountable lead.
The Coyotes tallied on the power play at 15:02 as Keith Yandle took a shot from the blue line that beat Rinne through traffic. Unlike the Predators, the Coyotes had three players in front of the net screening Rinne and he never had a chance on the shot.
For the Predators, they could only hope the clock quickly would run out and end this miserable night.
The game mercifully ended with the no further scores by the Coyotes. The Coyotes out shot the Predators 25-22, but the reality is that Chad Johnson rarely had to make quality saves.
For the Predators, the offensive impotence that has plagued the team all season continued in a big way tonight. If the offense does not quickly develop some chemistry and jump, the Predators will soon find themselves spending the remainder of this shortened season trying to get back into the playoff race.
This is early in the season to be sure, but the effort by the offense is alarming.
It is time to get hungry boys.
My three stars:
1. Antoine Vermette
2. Keith Yandle
3. Chad Johnson
About the Author: A native Nashvillian that grew up with minor league hockey, I'm now a devoted Predators fan and NHL follower. I have had the privilege of allowing my children to grow up watching the Predators and seeing the joy on their face when they are at a game. By day, I am a partner in an independent investment management company in the Nashville area. I played collegiate football and graduated from the University of South Carolina and graduated from the LSU graduate School of Banking. So yes, there are real true southern hockey fans in these non-traditional markets.