Coyotes beat Preds behind Kuemper, score another shorthanded goal
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Twice now in a week, the Arizona Coyotes have won a game against an elite NHL squad.
The Coyotes (9-8-1) have earned four points in the standings this week with wins over the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals on Sunday and the Nashville Predators, who had the best record in the NHL last season, on Thursday.
They also started their homestand with a win, winning the first game of a multi-game homestand for the second time in two opportunities this year with the 2-1 victory over the Predators. Last season, the Coyotes won just four of the 10 games that started a homestand of two games or more.
Maybe there’s some benefit to their success in getting off on the right foot this year.
“Any time — even on a road trip or any kind of thing to start something, if you win that first game, it does loosen guys up a little bit,” Tocchet said. “Some guys are maybe a little tight sometimes. When you win that game, it kind of loosens the psyche of a lot of guys.”
Thursday’s narrow win over the Predators (13-5-1) was an important answer back from a 6-1 loss in Detroit to finish the Coyotes’ most recent road trip. Goaltender Darcy Kuemper gave up five of those goals in that defeat, stopping just 12 of the 17 shots he faced.
That was not the case on Thursday.
Kuemper was the big reason for the Coyotes’ win over the Preds, who outshot Arizona 46-23. It didn’t matter that the the Predators had sustained pressure on Arizona with five power plays (more on that in a bit).
“Sometimes it’s nice seeing a lot [of shots], it’s easy to just get in a rhythm,” Kuemper said. “They had a lot of shots early and things were going well. I felt good, the guys were doing a great job in front of me, especially the D corps was amazing tonight, just boxing out, letting me see everything.”
Kuemper’s save percentage improved to .917 in the win. He has appeared in six straight games for the Coyotes as Antti Raanta remains out with a lower-body injury.
While Kuemper was stopping all but one shot by Nashville, the Coyotes got out to a 1-0 lead in the first period. Surprise! It was a shorthanded goal.
As Grabner skated into the offensive zone, his shot from high in the zone just floated in and went between the legs of Predators goalie Pekka Rinne to make it 1-0.
According to NHL public relations, 10 shorthanded goals in 18 games to start a season is tied for the third-most by a team since 1933. The Coyotes also now have a plus-5 goal differential on penalty kills, and still maintain the top penalty kill in the NHL after denying Nashville on its five power plays on Thursday.
That was Grabner’s fourth shorthanded goal this year.
“The psychology of it, a PP guy — and I know — you got the extra guy and you’re out there, you’re making plays and you’re setting up, but if you miss the net or there’s a bobbled puck, Grabs has got that speed where he can take off and he can put the fear of God in some people. And he’s done that this year,” Tocchet said.
There was another opportunity later where Grabner made a nice play in his own end to take a puck away and go the other way on a rush. His shot hit the post.
“There’s pressure points on a power play, as a penalty kill and he knows where to go when the pressure’s being played,” Tocchet said. “And that’s just experience over the years, that’s why he’s such a good penalty killer.”
The Coyotes added a second goal later in the game from Jason Demers, his first of the season. It proved necessary when Nick Bonino scored on Kuemper to cut the Coyotes’ lead in half, but 2-1 was where the score would stay.
“We kind of hung on. You’ve got to give some guys some credit,” Tocchet said. “I still think it’s a lesson to learn that you can’t back off. You can’t win in this league consistently if you’re backing off, and I thought the third, we’re kind of backing up in the neutral zone and I’m not a fan of that. So we’ve got to make sure that we meet pressure with pressure.
“But overall, hey, listen, that team’s built to win a Stanley Cup and we beat them 2-1. It was a little ugly, but like I said: The PK and Kuemps’ won us the game.”
–Demers fell awkwardly in front of the Coyotes’ net toward the end of the game and needed help getting off the ice. He was described as suffering a lower-body injury and was expected to be re-evaluated on Friday.