Well, that was surprising.
After a seven game win-less stretch in which the Coyotes only scored nine goals, Phoenix decided to turn up the intensity even before the game began. Some chirping by Rich Clune during the warm-up towards Keith Yandle and Shane Doan seemed to light a fire under the Coyotes, and they came out swinging in this game.
The first goal, in traditional Coyotes fashion, was an ugly sharp angle goal scored by Martin Hanzal from practically the goal-line just 1:46 into the game. Unlike in previous games, when the Coyotes seemed content to rest on their laurels with a one-goal lead, the Desert Dogs proceeded to pour it on in a manner not seen since 2006. Radim Vrbata got a much needed goal on a backhander at 3:42, and then 8 seconds later David Moss capitalized on a juicy rebound by Pekka Rinne to make it 3-0 and send Rinne to the bench. But the Coyotes weren't even close to done. Matthew Lombardi would take advantage of a blocked shot laying in the slot and beat Chris Mason, and then Keith Yandle would score on a power play generated by, of course, a Rich Clune roughing penalty to make it 5-0.
The whirlwind 1st period would not be over there however. The Predators got on the board 30 seconds later on a David Legwand shot that Jason LaBarbera couldn't keep between his pads, and another 30 seconds after that the aforementioned Rich Clune scored a tip-in goal to make the game 5-2. Radim Vrbata would add another goal from almost the same spot that Hanzal opened the scoring at, but Gabriel Bourque responded less than a minute later to conclude the nine goal offensive explosion that was the 1st period.
The rest of the game was somewhat anti-climactic. Antoine Vermette put home a nice Paul Bissonnette pass to make it 7-3, and Shea Weber uncorked a bottle-rocket of a slapper in the 3rd to make it 7-4. Other than that, the Coyotes managed the game well and skated away with a couple of points in regulation. Thus far they have 3 of 4 possible points on the three game road trip.
Five For Winning
1. Score First - This one may permanently remain in the Five For Winning section this year. As we saw last night, the Coyotes are substantially better when they have the lead. It'd be nice if they could start with it earlier. They scored the first goal finally. And the second. And the third. And the fourth. And the fifth.
2. Build a Bigger Lead - The Desert Dogs have had a lead in both of their previous games. Unfortunately, it's only been a one-goal lead. Because the Coyotes have been so prone to making mistakes down the stretch, if the Coyotes could give themselves an extra goal or two to cushion their lead they might be able to pull this one out. Starting out to a 5-0 lead is a good way to keep the game well in hand. After that outburst the Predators never managed to pull closer than 3 goals.
3. Think Smart, Play Smart - In both of their previous games, a titanic mistake gave the other team a power play that either directly or indirectly produced the game winning goal. The Coyotes simply cannot afford to make stupid mistakes in their own zone. Scoring 7 goals in a game typically makes some of those mistakes disappear, but there were some missed assignments in front of Jason LaBarbera, and an annoying tendency to surrender goals shortly after scoring them.
4. Shoot, Shoot, and Shoot Some More - All three goals in last night's game were scored after multiple shots on net. It doesn't matter if its shorthanded, even-strength, or on the power play, the Coyotes have to make Pekka Rinne work hard. The more they shoot, the better they'll be. Even though they were outshot 38-29 by Nashville, the Coyotes weren't constantly trying to line up the perfect shot. Most of their goals were created by sharp angle shots or rebounds, which is exactly how the Coyotes are supposed to generate offense.
5. Avoid the 3-Point Game - As nice as it would be to just win, the Coyotes need to leap-frog a ton of teams in the Western Conference to make the playoffs, and Nashville is one of them. They can't spot them an extra point. The Coyotes made sure Nashville would get nothing out of this game and like it. I'm sure their entire team would like to forget this one happened.
Our Three Stars
3rd Star - Jason LaBarbera - This one may come as a bit of a surprise to many, but Barbs made several terrific saves down the stretch to keep Nashville from getting back into this one. With 7 goals, your job as a netminder is to manage the game, and LaBarbera did that.
2nd Star - Radim Vrbata - Vrbata is the guy that the Coyotes want to see go on a tear. Tonight he scored two goals and had an assist. If he's warming up, the offense for the Coyotes will warm up with him.
1st Star - Rostislav Klesla - Klesla did everything tonight. He had four assists on the game, a career high, and delivered a nasty punch to the face of Brandon Yip during a third period scrap. The Coyotes needed a big game from their blueline and they got it.
Phoenix will wrap up its road trip Saturday night against the San Jose Sharks, another team currently in the fight for the final playoff seeds. If the Coyotes can get a win there, they will have taken 5 out of a possible 6 points on this road stretch and given themselves a lot of momentum going into the last month of the season.