Early in the week players and coaches talked about what could have happened in their first two games of the season.
Thursday, in their 2011-12 home opener, the Nashville Predators showed a sellout crowd at Bridgestone Arena what probably should have happened.
For the third time in as many outings the Predators were outshot and generally outplayed. This time, though, they finally were outscored too.
The Phoenix Coyotes got the first four goals of the contest and dumped Nashville 5-2, which made it the Predators’ largest margin of defeat in a home opener and their first loss in five years in such contests.
“Sometimes you need to get whupped a little bit to bring you back to reality,” coach Barry Trotz said. “I didn’t think we deserved the two wins on the road, and we showed you why.”
Whereas goalie Pekka Rinne was extraordinary in victories at Columbus and St. Louis, he looked complettely pedestrian at times in this one. In other instances he was utterly helpless, courtesy of defensive breakdowns in front of him.
“Against St. Louis and Columbus [we] got away with the win,” Rinne, who made 26 saves, said. “… [Thursday] night we kept doing the same kind of mistakes that we did on the road, but this time we got scored on. … We have to be way better.”
What was the most prolific and promising offensive combination of the previous two contests was a defensive liability in this one. David Legwand and Craig Smith were on the ice for all three goals against in the first period – as were defenseman Kevin Klein and Jonathon Blum. The third member of that unit, Colin Wilson, was out for two of the three.
By the third period, they had been separated with Smith dropped to another line and replaced by Sergei Kostitsyn. Wilson got Nashville within two, 4-2 with he scored with assists from Legwand and Kostitsyn with 10:52 remaining, but that was it.
Legwand, Smith and Wilson ultimately combined for 11 shots with three points (Legwand had two assists) and a minus-8 rating.
“We were just as sloppy [Thursday] night as we were the first two games,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “They were just able to capitalize. So we have to change that.”
General manager David Poile said repeatedly in the weeks leading up to the season that he expected his team would be better late in the season than early. Thus far, it’s difficult to imagine how the Predators could be much worse.
They have outshot the opposition just twice in nine periods. They have allowed 10 or more shots in two out of every three. With 10 shots of their own in the third against Phoenix, when the Coyotes were in a decidedly defensive posture, they finally snapped a string of six straight periods in single digits.
“Our defensive zone coverage it terrible,” Suter said. “We’ve got guys going from man to man kind of chasing the puck around. … Last year we did such a good job of taking away the point shots and [Thursday] night it seemed their defensemen were involved in every play.”
The one saving grace, beyond Rinne, has been their special teams.
They have allowed just one power play goal in 12 chances, including two by the Coyotes, and the power play has accounte for three of their nine goals.
Suter finally got his team on the board in this one with a shorthanded goal at 14:01 of the second. By that time, it was far too late to mount any sort of meaningful rally.
“Sometimes it falls on deaf ears until you get shown the right result for your efforts,” Trotz said. “The Coyotes were the better team by a wide margin. So we have some work to do.”
• Forwards Martin Erat (upper body) and Patric Hornqvist (lower body) sat out the contest with injuries. Erat was placed in injured reserve (retroactive to the weekend) earlier in the day.
The status of both is considered day-to-day. Trotz said there is a chance Hornqvist could play in the next contest, Saturday against New Jersey, but that Erat is much less likely.
• Tough guy Brandon McGratten, claimed off waivers from Anaheim on Tuesday, made his Nashville debut but played only sparingly. He had just four shifts in each of the first two periods and three in the third.
“He hadn’t been on the ice since Saturday so I knew I wasn’t going to play him a lot,” Trotz said. “He deserved to get a lot of time over a lot of guys. … He was fine. I’m very, very pleased with his game.”