Martin Erat proved unequivocally Tuesday night that a player does not have to score — or even shoot — to make a positive contribution on offense. Even if that player is the second leading scorer in franchise history.
The Nashville Predators’ forward did not have a goal or a shot through two periods against the Phoenix Coyotes but he had a lot to with the fact that his team had a two-goal lead and was well on its way to snapping a four-game losing streak.
Erat drew two penalties 1:10 apart in the second period, which gave the Predators a two-man advantage for 50 seconds. It took 47 of those seconds for them to convert, but they did when Cal O’Reilly scored his first power play goal of the season (the second of his career).
That gave Nashville a two-goal lead, which was more than big enough on a night when Pekka Rinne made 33 saves, and sent them on their way to a 3-0 victory before 14,333 at Bridgestone Arena.
“I really don’t care if I score a goal or not,” Erat said. “Two points right now is for us like gold. We just have to keep working. Goals are coming tough for us.”
When O’Reilly scored to make it 2-0, it was the first time since Nov. 18 at Montreal — six games ago — that the Predators were up by two goals at any point on anybody, and just the second time in five games they score more than once – period.
It also was their second power-play goal of the night, which made it just the third time this season — but the second time in three contests — Nashville scored twice with the man advantage. Shea Weber got the first with 50 seconds to go on a first-period power play.
“It was nice to score two goals, I tell you that,” O’Reilly said. “Just to get some goals and give us some confidence.”
The first penalty Erat drew was a tripping call against Derek Morris, which actually gave the Predators a two-man advantage for nine seconds. Phoenix quickly erased that one, but when Adrian Aucoin tripped Erat a short time later, the Predators finally had enough time to take advantage.
“Throughout the game we took seven stick penalties – that’s not a recipe for winning in this league,” Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. “… Those are bad penalties. Those are stupid penalties.”
Erat has battled back issues since training camp and twice has missed time with the problem — three games in October and four more in early November. He didn’t score his first goal until Nov. 16 and has just one point (a goal) in his last seven outings.
He finally got his first shot of this contest with 10:50 to play — with Nashville on the power play — but Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov stopped him with a sparkling pad save.
“Marty has been skating much better, and when he’s skating and working the way he can, he can create penalties and offensive chances – he can be a real effective guy,” coach Barry Trotz said. “The last couple of games you could see it’s coming for him.
“He just needs a puck to go in for him.”
• Trotz shuffled the Nashville lines slightly when he put Colin Wilson at right wing in place of Patric Hornqvist on the top unit with O’Reilly and Steve Sullivan. Hornqvist played on a unit with center Nick Spaling and left wing J.P. Dumont.
“We really depended on O’Reilly’s line a lot through the first 20 games … and I just thought they needed a little change,” Trotz said. “They were looking a little haggard, if you will.”
Sergei Kostitsyn also got the most playing time he’s seen in five games (10:02) as left wing along with Erat and Marcel Goc.
• The shutout was Rinne’s third all-time against Phoenix, which is the most against any single opponent. The three shutouts have come in eight all-time appearances against the Coyotes.
His 33 saves were one short of his season-high.
“Pekks was really good,” Trotz said. “When the game was on the line, our best player was the difference and that was Pekka Rinne.”
Rinne has held three other teams without a goal more than once, including Montreal, the last team he shut out before Tuesday.
• The victory was only the Predators’ second in regulation since Oct. 24. They also defeated Montreal 3-0 but also had shootout triumphs over St. Louis (Nov. 11), Chicago (Nov. 13) and Carolina (Nov. 20).