It quickly turned into a defensive struggle — and almost immediately the Nashville Predators lost one of their defensemen.
Cody Franson was injured on his first shift of the night and was unable to return Tuesday. That left the Predators with just five blue liners for their key Western Conference matchup with the Phoenix Coyotes, who came to town with victories in four straight and seven of their last nine.
As it turned out, the game was decided by the defense — although not in the traditional sense. Neither team allowed a goal in regulation or in overtime. Nine forwards for each side then failed to produce a decision in the shootout (each had one conversion), so in the 10th round the coaches turned to their blue liners.
When Adrian Aucoin converted for Phoenix and Shea Weber failed to answer for Nashville, the Predators settled for one point in a 1-0 defeat before 14,196 at the Sommet Center.
“It was a huge chess match,” Nashville forward Steve Sullivan said. “They play an extremely defense-first style. You really have to pay attention to details. … They’re a fast hockey club and they make it difficult to get in there and create chances.”
Franson’s injury was classified as one to the upper body. He will be reevaluated on Wednesday and Alexander Sulzer likely will be recalled.
In his absence, the remaining five Predators’ defensemen all played well over 25 minutes in a rotation that rarely had the same two together on consecutive shifts. Of that group, Francis Bouillon spent the least amount of time on the ice, but his 23:47 was more than four minutes above his season average.
“They did a great job,” goalie Pekka Rinne, who was credited with his 10th career shutout said. “They had a couple big blocks, and then when I gave up a rebound they were right there. They jumped on the puck and cleared the puck right away, It was real good for me.”
The Predators did not allow more than nine shots in a period and gave up just 26 for the game. Of course, they managed only 25, three of them in the overtime. Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was stellar in net to earn the win.
The offenses were further hindered by the fact that there were just two penalties called — one against each team. Phoenix got two of its shots on its power play in the first period, and Nashville, likewise, got two (three others were blocked) during its chance with the man-advantage, which came in the second period.
“Both teams played well defensively and there was great goaltending,” Coyotes defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. “It was one of those ones where it was going to go off a body or deflect in.”
Never mind that Nashville was down one body on defense.
“Every time you moved you had to fight for those inches on both sides,” coach Barry Trotz said. “That was the hardness of the game. I wouldn’t say it was overly physical … but it was a hard game. It was like being in a goal-line stand on both sides.”
• Cal O’Reilly’s most recent recall, on Jan. 25, was classified as an “emergency” one due to an injury to Wade Belak.
Belak sat out for the third straight game Tuesday but was a healthy scratch. Consequently, O’Reilly’s recall was classified to ‘regular.’
This was his 10th game of the season under regular recall conditions, which means if he is reassigned to Milwaukee he must clear waivers. The 23-year-old originally cleared waivers at the end of training camp and opened the season in the AHL.
“Cal has played a lot up and down, up and down,” Trotz said. “I think he’s earned the right (to stay) through experience. … I have a little better comfort level with him.”
• There were fewer opportunities than normal for bathroom breaks as the contest featured a lot of extended action..
Through their first 54 games the Predators averaged slightly more than 57 faceoffs. Even with the overtime, this one had 39 – 11 in the first period, 11 in the second, 13 in the third and four in the OT.
“It just went fast,” Trotz said. “Both teams were checking well. Both teams used all four lines a lot, and there was a lot of pace.”
• Center Marcel Goc returned to the lineup after having missed the previous three games with an upper body injury. He won seven of nine faceoffs and registered two hits, one takeaway and one blocked shot.
He also was Nashville’s first skater in the shootout, but failed to get off a shot against the poke-check of Bryzgalov.