GLENDALE, Ariz. – Ed Jovanovski is known as a hard-nosed defenceman who isn’t afraid to mix it up, evident by the post-game scratches lining his face.
When it comes to offence, though, his coach has a simple message: Shoot it hard, Jovo.
He did, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Phoenix Coyotes.
Jovanovski had the first three-goal game of his 15-year career and the first by a defenceman in franchise history, helping the Coyotes overcome some early defensive miscues to beat the Nashville Predators 4-3 Wednesday night.
“It was a heck of an effort on his part, that’s for sure,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “He was opportunistic on the goals, but he played a solid game for us, too. It was good to see him get rewarded for that hard work.”
Jovanovski has never been afraid to put in the work.
He’s been a top-pair blue-liner for three teams, earning five trips to the NHL all-star game, and a stalwart on Canada’s Olympic teams.
Jovanovski has never been known as much of a scorer, though. His career high was 17 goals for Vancouver in 2001-02—five higher than his second-best output—and he didn’t score in the first 10 games this season.
But with his team struggling to score goals—two or less in six games this season—Jovanovski took his coach’s jump-into-the-play approach to heart, notching the first hat trick by a defenceman for a franchise that started in Winnipeg in 1979, including the go-ahead goal with just more than 14 minutes left.
“It was nice to contribute offensively and nice to get a win,” Jovanovski said in his typical low-key tone.
Lee Stempniak added his 100th career goal and goalie Ilya Bryzgalov made up for the defensive mistakes—one of his own—with 28 saves to help Phoenix pull out its second home win before another barely-there crowd of 6,761.
Nashville had been the NHL’s best team in one-goal games, going 23 straight without losing in regulation, dating to Feb. 9. The Predators were solid through the first two periods, getting goals from Francis Bouillon, Sergei Kostitsyn and Patric Hornqvist to lead 3-2, but missed some good chances and wore down on the penalty kill in the third period while losing their third straight.
“The first and second periods we played really well, but the third they got some chances and that was it,” Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne said.
Coming off franchise records of 107 points and 50 wins, Phoenix has struggled this season after ending a six-year playoff drought.
The Coyotes opened by splitting two games against Boston in Prague to end a weeklong trip to Europe and had trouble shaking the jet lag, opening 3-4-3. Phoenix even struggled at home, going 1-2-1 after winning 29 games in the desert a season ago, while drawing less than 9,000 fans in every game except the opener.
Against Nashville, the attendance still wasn’t good, more suited for a Minnesota high school game than the NHL. The defence had some early problems, too, giving up three goals before the second period was half over.
Offensively, Phoenix seemed to finally find its groove, thanks to Jovanovski and a lineup that was intact for the first time this season.
Jovanovski got it started with a goal 1:08 in by clanging a shot off the post and added his second in the second period by skating freely around the right circle off a faceoff to beat Rinne short side.
After the Coyotes fell behind, Stempniak tied it with a power-play goal in the third period, Phoenix’s first at home this season. Jovanovski capped his night with flying caps by one-timing Ray Whitney’s circle-to-circle pass past Rinne 75 seconds later.
“Now we’ve got something to build on,” Stempniak said.
Nashville has plenty to work on.
The Predators were the surprise of the NHL early in the season, earning at least a point in their first eight games. Since then, they’ve gone into a funk, following losses to Detroit and St. Louis with this setback.
Nashville did get off to a good start, though.
Bryzgalov gave up a soft goal midway through the first period, when Bouillon’s shot from the blue line squirted through his pads for his first of the season. Kostitsyn made it 2-1 just 30 seconds later, scooping up a fumbled puck by Coyotes defenceman Adrian Aucoin and beating Bryzgalov glove side.
Hornqvist put Nashville up 3-2 late in the second period on a power play, squeezing the puck past Bryzgalov after Colin Wilson’s one-timer caromed up off the goalie’s pads and dropped near the right post.
That was it, though.
Steve Sullivan couldn’t capitalize on a semi-breakaway early in the third period and the Coyotes followed with the two power-play goals, leaving the Predators with another loss and three straight road games still to come.
“We did a decent job, but we’re going to need to find a way to win some games here,” Predators coach Barry Trotz said.
Notes: Nashville played without C Matthew Lombardi (concussion), RW Martin Erat (upper body) and D Ryan Suter (lower body). … Phoenix is 7-2-0 in its last nine meetings with Nashville at home.