GLENDALE, Ariz. – A week ago, the plan was for goalie Chad Johnson to spend the American Hockey League All-Star break relaxing in the Northeast with his parents and twin brother, Curtis.
An injury to Phoenix Coyotes starting goalie Mike Smith forced a Plan B, and two lackluster efforts from backup Jason LaBarbera had the entire Johnson clan together almost 3,000 miles to the Southwest at Jobing.com Arena – watching their son and brother notch his first NHL shutout.
Johnson was handed a 1-0 lead three minutes into play and that was all he needed, stopping all 21 shots by the Nashville Predators, as the Coyotes broke out of an early-season malaise with a textbook, 4-0 win – just their second in six tries to open the season.
Keith Yandle had a goal and two assists and Nick Johnson – no relation – scored his first goal as a Coyote and added an assist as Phoenix played the kinds of suffocating, system hockey that took them past Nashville and all the way to the Western Conference Finals last year.
"It was an easy game, and I had a lot of help. I wanted to help the team win and the opportunity was there tonight," said Johnson, who said he was close to a shutout in two of his previous five NHL starts, including his only other NHL win for the New York Rangers in Colorado almost three years ago. "I wasn't nervous, but I didn't know what to expect because it's been awhile since I've been in NHL action. Getting my feet wet in the first period was important.
"My parents never had a chance to see me play in the NHL, I'm sure Mom might be crying a little bit. We were going to spend some time with me in Boston and New York, but we had a change of plans. The weather is warmer here and I think everyone's pretty happy with how it turned out."
Antoine Vermette and Lauri Korpikoski continued their early offensive sparks with a goal each. But it was Johnson and the Phoenix defense that stole the show as the Coyotes – who had allowed 20 goals in their first five games – got back to what they do best.
The Coyotes were hoping to have both center Martin Hanzal and defenseman Rostislav Klesla ready to play, but both were unable to answer the bell before the game. Smith could be back as early as the weekend from his groin injury, but there might be less urgency for the moment.
"Chad controlled the rebounds well and he looked calm in there," said Yandle, who had struggled early, but has turned things around the last two games. "We had a tight house in front of our net and the forwards were there all night. I thought we got through the neutral zone, got the puck deep and attacked all night. The four goals is an added bonus, but we played in their end a lot."
Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne, who lost here three times as the Coyotes beat the Predators in last year's playoffs, made 21 saves but allowed a goal to Vermette on the first shot he saw three minutes into play and Nashville chased the rest of the way.
Playing without leading scorer Patric Hornqvist, who suffered a lower-body injury in an overtime loss at Anaheim on Saturday, the Predators have now scored just 10 goals in their first six games and just three in even-strength situations.
"We got beat all over the ice," said Nashville captain Shea Weber, who has no points in six games after signing a 14-year, $110 million contract in the off-season. "We just have to look ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves if we're giving everything we can. It's going to take everybody, not just one or two guys."
Nashville coach Barry Trotz said the reason behind the offensive struggles isn't a secret.
"When you're getting deflected on the outside all the time, you have to fight to get into the interior," he said. "Obviously, we haven't scored enough goals. Sometimes you have to get greasy goals, and we weren't willing to get greasy goals tonight."
Chad Johnson was tested more in the second period, stopping Martin Erat in close and denying Weber and Colin Wilson on bang-bang shots. And after a two lackluster power plays, the Coyotes doubled their lead. Rinne stopped a shot from the point, but Boyd Gordon pushed the rebound to Korpikoski, who popped in his 50th career NHL goal at 16:48.
Nick Johnson made it 3-0 at 11:34 of the third, breaking up a play on one end and finishing a Yandle feed in the other for his first goal as a Coyotes. Yandle wrapped up his three-point night by pounding home an Oliver Ekman-Larsson feed from the point on the power play at 15:02.
"We've got a long way to go, we've just got to keep the pedal to the metal," Nick Johnson said. "Getting that first point, or two points, it makes me a true new member of the team. New situation, a new city and a new squad … I feel productive and it's a nice start."