The Nashville Predators may not have spent a lot of time atop the NHL standings in the past, but they realize their current reign there depends on their ability to bounce back from a rare defeat.
The Predators try to avoid back-to-back losses for the first time in nearly two months when they visit the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday.
Nashville’s 75 points are three ahead of Anaheim and Buffalo for the league lead, a position it had never held in its eight seasons until two weeks ago. However, the Predators (36-13-3) lost 4-3 to the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday.
Paul Kariya’s goal early in the second period tied the game, but Nashville gave up two unanswered goals and couldn’t make up the deficit - snapping a four-game winning streak.
“It just wasn’t our style of game,” Predators right wing Scott Hartnell said. “It wasn’t Predator hockey that we pride ourselves on.”
Despite the defeat, Nashville has outscored opponents 52-29 to win 10 of its last 12 games. The Predators are concluding a four-game road trip. They are 18-10-0 away from home, tying the franchise mark for road wins in a season.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz said his team’s success this season stretches off the ice.
“Our mindset is at a different level,” he told the team’s official Web site. “How we approach games, the professionalism that we go into every game with in terms of not trying to take any days off, that to me shows a lot about the growth personally of all the players.
“In the games you see the growth in terms of stats, but the growth we’re talking about, there’s no stat for.”
Right wing Steve Sullivan had a goal and an assist in Tuesday’s loss, extending his points streak to eight games. He has four goals and seven assists during the run.
The Predators have not dropped consecutive games since Dec. 4 at Phoenix and Dec. 6 at Anaheim. The Coyotes outshot Nashville 42-21 in the December meeting, a 3-2 Phoenix victory - just its second win in the last nine games between these clubs.
The Coyotes (23-26-2) have also dropped six of nine games overall - including a 2-1 defeat to the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday - following a season-high seven-game winning streak.
Against the Ducks, Fredrik Sjostrom’s first-period goal held up until Phoenix allowed two goals in a 1:22 span of the third.
Curtis Joseph took the loss despite stopping 38 shots for the Coyotes.
“It was really, I think, the best game he’s played all season,” Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky said. “He’s had some good ones, but he was truly remarkable tonight. He played his heart out, and I’m disappointed for him that we couldn’t get the win.”
Phoenix has been outscored 9-3 and outshot 72-49 in back-to-back defeats to Pittsburgh and Anaheim. The Coyotes may have trouble breaking out of that scoring slump if Tomas Vokoun is between the pipes. The Nashville goaltender is 5-1-0 with a 2.01 goals-against average in his last six starts against Phoenix.