GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Playing without Filip Forsberg was no problem for the surging Nashville Predators.
Roman Josi had a goal and an assist, Juuse Saros stopped 37 shots and the Predators jumped on the Arizona Coyotes early minus Forsberg in a 4-2 victory Saturday night.
“The players have to be able to go out and execute, play hard and foster the emotion,” Nashville coach John Hynes said. “I thought guys did what they needed to do tonight to win the hockey game.”
Forsberg, Nashville’s leading scorer, was placed in COVID-19 protocol just before the game.
The Predators were just fine without him against the last-place Coyotes, scoring three first-period goals in a chippy game that featured 25 penalties for 38 minutes.
Mattias Ekholm, Yakov Trenin and Tanner Jeannot also scored for Nashville, which has won 12 of 15. Saros has been in net for 10 of those wins.
“I think there is no better goalie in the world (right now) than him,” Josi said. “Every night he’s giving us a chance to win. It’s kind of unbelievable how consistent he is. I think it’s almost underappreciated.”
The Coyotes started flat-footed, but punched back when the Central Division-leading Predators tried to push them around. Arizona was much better in the second period and scored twice in the third to pull within two goals, but Saros made some difficult saves down the stretch.
Clayton Keller and Lawson Crouse scored for the Coyotes, and Karel Vejmelka had 25 saves.
“When you trail 3-0 against a first-position team, it’s not easy mentally,” Coyotes coach Andre Tourigny said. “Our guys showed a lot of character, a lot of pushback. I liked the way we showed up.”
Forsberg had scored four goals in three games and had multiple points in each, but was a last-minute scratch.
Nashville rolled right on without him, scoring 56 seconds in when Ekholm punched in a rebound and fell over Vejmelka after an odd-man rush.
Then things got testy.
Coyotes center Liam O’Brien dropped gloves with Mark Borowiecki two seconds after the opening goal, then Arizona’s Phil Kessel chopped at Ekholm for slashing him. Arizona’s Dysin Mayo also got into a wrestling match against the boards with Matt Luff.
And that was in the first 6 1/2 minutes.
The penalties kept coming — 12 in the first period — and Trenin scored on a 4-on-4 with a shot from the right circle Vejmelka couldn’t see through traffic. Jeannot made it 3-0 by charging to the net and one-timing a pass from Matt Duchene.
“We were on our heels the whole first period and to me, that’s more us than it has to do with them,” Coyotes forward Andrew Ladd said.
The pace of goals (none) and penalties (two) slowed considerably in the second period. Saros continued to be sharp, making a glove save on Travis Boyd’s short breakaway and a couple others on odd-man rushes.
The testy tempo picked back up to start the third period.
Keller scored early in the period off a faceoff, lifting a sharp-angle shot that hit the crossbar and the back of Saros’ helmet.
Ladd and Trenin fought 25 seconds later after Trenin went after Keller. O’Brien went back to the penalty box for roughing and Josi scored on the ensuing power play, beating Vejmelka to the glove side through a screen.
STICKING UP FOR KELLER
The Coyotes signed Ladd last offseason to provide a veteran presence. The 36-year-old left wing gave Arizona’s young players a lesson in sticking up for a teammate when he fought Trenin for taking a shot at the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Keller.
“For me, that’s what it’s all about,” Tourigny said. “To have a leader like that for our young guys to follow, it’s priceless.”
O’Brien and Jeannot were hit with unsportsmanlike misconduct penalties while the officials reviewed a potential high stick on Crouse’s goal. … Coyotes D Ilya Lyubushkin limped off to the locker room in the first period after blocking a shot with his right leg, but was back on the bench to start the second. … Arizona C Riley Nash had an assist a day after being picked up on waivers from Tampa Bay.
Nashville: Hosts Colorado on Tuesday.
Arizona: Hosts Toronto on Wednesday.
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