Found April 28, 2012 on
Coming off of a week sitting back and watching NHL playoff hockey take place around the league, the Nashville Predators were back in action on Friday night facing off against the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena in the opening game of their Western Conference Semi-finals series.
The rust showed early for the Predators as Phoenix frustrated Nashville with their defense and got out to an early lead using their counterattacking style to draw a penalty off a turnover in the neutral zone. On the ensuing power play, the Coyotes worked the puck around to Radim Vrbata standing in the faceoff circle to the right of Pekka Rinne. Holding onto the puck, Vrbata skated down towards the goal line looking for passing options until putting the puck on net beating Rinne with a wrist shot over his right shoulder. Despite continuing to struggle to find their game, the Predators took advantage of a bounce off the stanchion when Brandon Yip deposited Francis Bouillon’s dump-in that ricocheted out to the slot into a vacated net to send the teams into the first intermission tied at a goal apiece.
Phoenix retook the lead early in the 2nd period as the Predators struggled to clear the puck from their defensive end eventually leading to Rostislav Klesla beating Craig Smith off the wall with the puck heading towards the net. Reading the developing play, Roman Josi dropped down laying out to cut off the passing lane across the front of the net, however Klesla took advantage of a bounce for Phoenix putting the rebound of his centering pass off Josi into the net for a 2-1 lead just 3:05 into the 2nd period. The Predators responded continuing to adjust their game and spend more time in the Phoenix end of the rink ultimately getting the tying goal by creating a turnover of their own as Hal Gill used his long reach to keep in a clearing attempt, moving it over to Bouillon at the top of the point for a shot with Patric Hornqvist in front. In the ensuing scramble in the goal mouth, Andrei Kostitsyn was able to find the puck pushing it past Mike Smith sprawled out in the crease to tie the game.
After a long cycle from the Predators deep in the Phoenix end of the rink, Mikkel Boedker created a 2-on-1 opportunity for the Coyotes beating Kostitsyn covering back at the blue line to break free through the neutral zone. With Kevin Klein taking away the pass and no back pressure, Boedker was able to outwait Rinne eventually getting him to move by pulling the puck in before snapping off a shot to the far post to put the Coyotes up 3-2 late in the 2nd period. It was all about the Predators from there onward though as Phoenix started the 3rd period on the penalty kill and went on to outshoot the Coyotes 16-1 in the period. Martin Erat got the game-tying goal late in the 3rd burying the rebound of a Ryan Suter shot deflected by Hornqvist in front of Smith to send the game into overtime.
Nashville got off to a quick start in overtime and continued to apply pressure on the Phoenix net throughout overtime making the most of their puck possession style of play to test Smith repeatedly throughout the extra frame. After surviving through the attacks on their own goal, the Coyotes got the opportunity to turn the tables with an offensive zone faceoff deep in the Predators end late in the overtime session after an icing call. Martin Hanzal won the faceoff slightly forward skating through and pushing the puck over to Ray Whitney driving the back post to catch Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne focused in on the loose puck and allowing Whitney an easy re-direct into the back of the net to capture Game 1 for the Coyotes by a 4-3 final.
- Importance of Faceoffs – Winning the first five faceoffs of the game allowed Phoenix to grab momentum early taking advantage of the Predators rust and allowing them to settle into their counterattacking style, leading to an early power play advantage and lead. The Coyotes controlled the dot for most of the night winning 46 of the 78 faceoffs (59%) throughout the game and eventually creating the game-winning goal off of a faceoff win. To their credit, the Predators saw what winning faceoffs could do for them too in the 3rd period winning an offensive zone faceoff and getting a quick shot on goal that handcuffed Mike Smith and forced Boyd Gordon to hold Martin Erat’s stick leading a late power play where the Predators won the draw and immediately set up on the advantage working the puck around leading to the rebound that Erat buried to tie the score. Predators head coach Barry Trotz addressed the issue in the post-game media session mentioning that it wasn’t just on the centers to win the faceoffs and that it was an area that would be addressed by the whole team moving forward.
- Importance of Scoring First – The Coyotes improved to 3-1 in the playoffs when scoring the first goal of the game while the Predators dropped to 0-2 when allowing the first goal of the game. Each of the teams in this series has a unique style. The Predators are a puck-possession team that when they get going will control the puck for long stretches testing their opponent’s defense and wearing them out till they finally clear the zone and dump it back to the Predators as they go off for a line change. The Coyotes are a counterattacking team who look to make simple, smart plays forcing their opponent to beat them to create offense and attacking off of turnovers to generate offense of their own. By scoring first last night, the Coyotes were able to control the pace of the game throughout. Despite their 16-1 shot advantage in the 3rd period, most of the chances came from the outside with little to no traffic in front for the Predators. During the regular season the Predators were 35-3-4 and are 4-0 in the playoffs when scoring the first goal of the game.
- Discipline Tested – In the opening round the Predators discipline was tested continuously throughout their series against Detroit and this series will be no different. With their counterattacking style of play, the Coyotes continuously test their opponents looking to create offense off of turnovers anywhere on the ice. This was evident on Friday night with the quick attack off of a neutral zone turnover from Kevin Klein when the Predators looked to breakout of their end of the ice leading to the first power play of the game and also late in the 2nd period when the Coyotes quickly moved from defense to offense after a long cycle in deep in their end leading to the 2-on-1 opportunity that Boedker scored off of. The Coyotes will also test the Predators deep in their end pinching their defensemen down the wall looking to pressure the Nashville forwards to turn over the puck as we saw leading up to Klesla’s 2nd period goal.
- Role Reversal – In their previous playoff series, the Predators have normally been the team facing a barrage of shots from their opponent throughout the night while protecting a lead. Last night in Game 1 it was the exact opposite with Nashville peppering the Phoenix net with shots and the Coyotes hanging as the Predators gained momentum throughout the night. Heading into the second intermission with 17 shots on goal apiece, the Predators outshot Phoenix 27-7 through the 3rd period and overtime to finish with a 42-24 shot advantage in the game. Mike Smith was up to the test throughout the night making several great stops in the 3rd period and overtime and getting a key shot block from Michal Rozsival to rob Gabriel Bourque on an empty net. After shaking the rust off his game early on, Pekka Rinne settled in nicely despite the lack of work in the 3rd period and overtime making saves and more importantly not leaving rebounds for the Coyotes to pounce on.
Stops and Starts
- After missing the entire first round due to injury, Hal Gill made his playoff debut for the Predators getting eased back into the lineup with 18:02 of ice time. Gill made his impact known creating a turnover with his long reach that lead to the Predators 2nd period goal, making 3 hits, blocking 2 shots, and finishing with a +2 rating on the night. Gill saw the least ice time of the Predators defensemen on Friday, but will likely see his time increase as the series moves forward.
- Patric Hornqvist was in the middle of the Predators offense throughout the night standing at the top of Mike Smith’s crease causing havoc for him all night long. Hornqvist assisted on two goals and fired a game-high 8 shots on goal missing the net with another 2 shots and having 2 more shot attempts blocked.
- Just two skaters for the Predators didn’t register a shot on goal in Game 1, Nick Spaling and Alexander Radulov. Radulov’s line was buzzing around the Phoenix end of the rink most of the night pressuring the Coyotes’ net, but Radulov looked to use his playmaking skills to create opportunities for others than shoot the puck on several occasions. Moving forward the Predators will need to get Radulov move involved in the offense, which likely means getting him to look to shoot more often to create opportunities rather than continue to cycle the puck.
- Brandon Yip had a strong game for the Predators on Friday night hustling to win the race to a loose puck for the team’s first goal of the night and continuing to use his legs to win battles along the boards and create turnovers and chances at the net deep in the Phoenix end finishing the game with 5 shots on goal.
- Acquired at the trade deadline to take key defensive zone faceoffs for the Predators, Paul Gaustad (9-4, 69%) was the only Predator to win more than 50% of his draws in Game 1. Gaustad was used to take defensive zone draws in the 2nd period onward, but was unable to take the final faceoff of the game due to the icing.
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