By Associated Press
GLENDALE-- Pekka Rinne stopped 35 shots for his third shutout of the season to lift the Nashville Predators to a 3-0 win over the Coyotes on Thursday night at jobing.com Arena.
Rinne received a big gift on his 29th birthday, signing a seven-year, $49 million contract earlier Thursday, a deal that was a big boost for a franchise that had long been criticized for being tight with the purse strings.
After fulfilling his media obligations and taking a little nap, Rinne turned away everything the Coyotes threw at him to for his 23rd NHL shutout.
Jonathon Blum and Matt Halischuk scored goals in the second period, and Patric Hornqvist scored for a fourth straight game, into an empty net, to help Rinne put the icing on what had already been a momentous day.
The Coyotes (6-4-2) tried to ruin it by getting off to a strong start after beating Colorado 4-1 on Wednesday.
Despite plenty of good chances in the first period, Phoenix couldn't solve Rinne early and had some bad luck late by hitting a couple of posts. The loss snapped the Coyotes' points streak at five games (4-0-1).
Rinne turned away several good chances in the first period, just getting his skate out to stop Mikkel Boedker on a wraparound attempt, then stuffing Boedker on a breakaway with the Predators (6-4-2) on a power play.
Rinne got a break in the second period when Boedker hit the post on a rebound, and nearly did the splits to stop a shot by Radim Vrbata on a power play early in the third.
He got some help from defenseman Kevin Klein after leaving the crease midway through the third and finished it off with a couple of tough saves down the stretch.
Photo by Getty Images.
Phoenix had gotten good goaltending during its points run, thanks to Mike Smith. He stopped 76 of 79 shots during the span and had 39 saves Wednesday.
With Smith getting the night off, the Coyotes turned to Jason LaBarbera, who hadn't started since Oct. 18 against Chicago, a span of six games.
LaBarbera didn't look the least bit rusty early, sprawling on his belly twice in the first three minutes and making a close-range save on Craig Smith during a power play midway through the period.
It didn't last.
Blum broke through midway through the second period, sending a wrister from the blue line that made its way through traffic for his first goal of the season.
Halischuk made it 2-0 late in the period, one-timing a pass from Smith on a 2-on-1 break for his fourth goal (see KEY MOMENT below).
► EDITOR'S NOTE: Dave Vest of phoenixcoyotes.com compiled this recap.
Leading 1-0 in the second period, a Phoenix turnover led to a two-on-one rush for Nashville the other way. Rookie center Craig Smith showed off his great speed and then slipped a pass across the slot that Matt Halischuk backhanded past Coyotes goalie Jason LaBarbera at 16:04. It was Halischuk's third goal of the year but first in six games.
• Center Martin Hanzal did not play because of a lower-back injury suffered in his last shift of Wednesday's game at Colorado. Hanzal is considered day-to-day. Kyle Chipchura, whom the Coyotes recalled from the American Hockey League earlier on Thursday, played in Hanzal's place. Chipchura played 8:29 and took one shot on goal. Ray Whitney wore an "A" on his seater in Hanzal's absence.
• The Coyotes' next game is Saturday vs. Edmonton at Jobing.com Arena. The puck drops at 7 p.m. (Arizona time). The game can be seen on Fox Sports Arizona and can be heard on XTRA Sports 910 (AM).
"It's a different game when you go out and get a lead. We had a couple of chances where if we can get a lead instead of chasing the game, that's something that can help your energy level. Once we got down, we didn't play with the same energy."
"'Barbs' played unbelievable for us, but we have to find ways to generate power plays and get some opportunities on the power play. I think we only had one or two, and that's not good enough."
"I'm not going to say it's just two points. It has a different meaning to me. Signing the contract, playing the same day and it's my birthday. It's a pretty special day."