Scott Walker had a goal and two assists, helping the Predators spoil Phoenix’s first game in its new arena by beating the Coyotes 3-1 Saturday night.
“We had to come out and kill some of the energy of the crowd and the excitement,” coach Barry Trotz said. “We got a good lead, and we were very focused, and I thought we were able to frustrate them.”
The $220 million suburban arena is expected to make the Coyotes profitable after the team lost millions each season in the America West Arena in downtown Phoenix, where more than one-fourth of the 16,200 hockey seats had an obstructed view of the ice.
Coyotes players and opponents alike also used to complain about ice quality in the old building, built for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. They found the new ice sheet more acceptable.
“It was pretty good,” Vokoun said. “In these climates it’s never going to be perfect. It’s not like you’re in the mountains where it’s minus 20 degrees, so I think it was pretty smooth, and the building is pretty. It’s great to have a new building; the old arena wasn’t really good for hockey.”
“The ice was quick and good,” Phoenix captain Shane Doan said. “There is no excuse.”
Brian Savage spoiled Vokoun’s shutout bid by scoring 8:21 into the third period, but the Predators regained their two-goal lead when Martin Erat deflected a shot by Robert Schnabel past Phoenix goaltender Sean Burke with 4:50 remaining.
Burke made just 18 saves.
Phoenix hasn’t won at home since Dec. 10 against Dallas. The Coyotes were unbeaten (1-0-3) on a road trip that followed their 5-2 loss to Minnesota in their last game at America West on Dec. 15. They tied the Predators 3-3 in Nashville on Monday, with Walker scoring all three goals.
“It’s just the ebb and flow of it all,” he said. “It’s just when things go in, and it just so happened things went in against these guys in Nashville and then again tonight.”
Walker opened the scoring when Zidlicky passed him the puck through a defender’s legs. Walker swept it into the net with 5:43 left in the first period.
Savage appeared to tie it with 1:52 to go in the period when he flicked a loose puck past Vokoun. But Doan, knocked headfirst into the crease seconds before, was pinned there when the puck crossed the goal line, and the score was disallowed.
“Obviously, we would have loved to score the first goal and get them right into it, but it didn’t happen that way,” Savage said. “We had a lot of chances, and you have to give credit to their goaltender.”
Walker started the next scoring play when he left a drop pass for David Legwand, who sent the puck to Zidlicky in the circle. The defenseman made it 2-0 with a shot that bounced off Burke’s knee and out of his glove before landing in the corner of the net 4:17 into the second period.
It was enough for Nashville, which improved to 12-0-1-1 when leading after two.
Fifth-year Coyotes coach Bob Francis, the longest-tenured coach in franchise history, praised co-owners Steve Ellman and Jerry Moyes and managing partner Wayne Gretzky for getting the building finished.
“They had a vision,” Francis said. “What stood out for me was coming outto Glendale 18 months ago when we broke ground. Build it, they will come.”
Paulina Gretzky, 14, Gretzky’s daughter, got a huge ovation when she sang the national anthem. She also performed at the Heritage Classic on Nov. 22, and Gretzky said beforehand that was more difficult. “She did a great job in Edmonton, in that cold,” he said. “She’ll be fine.” … The Predators are 1-2 in arena-opening games, losing to Florida at home in 1998 and at Dallas in 2001. … The Glendale building replaced the Stars’ rink as newest in the NHL. … Vokoun got his 80th win—one shy of Mike Dunham’s franchise record—and 16th this season to stay tied with Marty Turco of Dallas for fourth in the league. … Legwand also had a goal disallowed—because officials blew thewhistle before he put a rebound past Burke.