Ryan Suter was unavailable for comment after the game, which was just as well given that he apparently said too much in the final minute of the second period.
Suter was knocked from the contest by a heavy hit from forward Shane Doan deep in the Phoenix Coyotes’ end. It took a moment for the Nashville Predators defenseman to gather himself, get to his feet and head to the bench.
On his way there, he earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which was assessed with 19 seconds to go before the second intermission. Rather than go to the penalty box, though, he went straight to the training room, where he was diagnosed with an upper-body injury, and did not return.
It did not seem like the worst possible time for such an injury given that — for much of the night — there was plenty of defense to go around. Minus one-half of their top blue line pairing, though, the Predators only matched the Coyotes at one goal apiece in the third period and fell 3-2 before a sellout crowd of 17,113 at Bridgestone Arena.
“Obviously [Suter] is one of our top guys offensively,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Especially when we fell down a little in terms of two goals, we could have used him because he’s great in the transition game.
“Yeah, we could have used him, but we got a push in third.”
Shea Weber scored with 49.1 seconds to play, and Patric Honrqvist had a shot that went into the side of the net as the final whistle sounded. Nashville ripped off 18 shots in the final 20 minutes, which was four more than in the first two periods combined.
Earlier, with 7:32 remaining, to be exact, Mike Fisher had a goal negated by a high-sticking call against defenseman Shane O’Brien, who committed the penalty as he drove the net and set a screen for Fisher’s shot.
“That was the right call,” Trotz said. “I had an issue with the hit on Suter. I think we’re trying to get those out of the games. … The puck’s four or five feet from him. There was no play on the puck. It was a straight play on Suter.”
Trotz offered no update on Suter’s exact injury or his immediate status other than to call him “day-to-day.”
The bulk of the scoring occurred in one sudden flourish — a span of fewer three minutes early in the second period. Phoenix scored the first two 58 seconds apart before Sergei Kostitsysn answered for Nashville with a power-play goal.
“They did a better job than us to get the puck deep and get some cycles going,” Hornqvist said. “I think we did a better job in the third, maybe the last 10 minutes.”
Primarily, it was the defenses that ruled the majority of the night.
Nashville had one shot on goal in the first 15 minutes, and the teams combined for a total of just nine shots in the first period. That was one more than fewest in a Predators’ game this season (eight in the first, Nov. 20 at Carolina).
Things opened up slightly in the second period (10 shots apiece) before the Predators’ desperation took hold in the third.
“It was a logjam in that first period,” Trotz said. “Both teams were checking fairly well, and when they’re checking fairly well there’s probably a lot of turnovers and a lot of 50-50 pucks in the neutral zone and not much flow. We both do that when we’re on top of our games.
“It was probably frustrating from an offensive standpoint and probably good from a defensive standpoint.”
Perhaps it was the penalty shot awarded to Doan 10 seconds after the opening faceoff (Pekka Rinne stopped it) that put both sides on alert defensively.
More likely, it was the fact both sides are involved in the tightest Western Conference playoff chase in recent memory. Each team was among a group of eight teams separated by four points at the start of the day.
Either way, if one period was too much there’s no way the Predators can afford to be without Suter for an extended period.
He missed 11 games with a knee injury in October and November and the team had a losing record (4-6-1) without him.
“It’s tough, but I think we have a group of guys back there that are capable of stepping up,” Weber said. “Our [defense] group, I think, is pretty deep and it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.”
Then again, what else can the team captain say in such a situation?
• Jordin Tootoo was cleared in the morning to return to games by the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program.
He logged 10:03, fewest among Nashville’s skaters. He played just three shifts in the first period and was greeted with a large ovation on his first, which was roughly 3:35 into the contest. He played five more shifts in the second and finished with three in the third.
“His impact was a little limited, but he’s missed seven weeks,” Trotz said. “That’s a hard train to catch.”
It was his first game action since Dec. 26. He was cleared to return to practice on Jan. 31.
Tootoo remains under care of program doctors.
“Obviously the crowd really loved it,” Weber said. “It’s an exciting time for him. … We missed him a lot. Hopefully he continues to do well.”
• Goalie Anders Lindback recovered from the illness that landed him in the hospital for a time Thursday night and served as Pekka Rinne’s backup. Consequently, Mark Dekanich was reassigned to Milwaukee one day after being recalled.
• Center Marcel Goc was placed on injured reserve Friday afternoon with an upper body injury. The move ensured he would not return to action until at least next Saturday at Dallas.
He has nine goals and 15 assists in 51 appearances this season.