NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -The Nashville Predators outshot another opponent. This time, Jason Arnott made sure they also had the advantage on the scoreboard, too.
Arnott scored 7 seconds into the third period, and the Predators snapped a five-game skid by holding off the Atlanta Thrashers 4-3 on Saturday night. Call it a welcome win for a team that just staggered home off a four-game trip, losers of five straight in regulation despite outshooting their opponents in each game.
"As harsh and ugly as it looked at the time, the beauty of the thing was we gutted it out and found a way to win, and that's real important," coach Barry Trotz said.
Arnott provided the difference scoring his first goal since Jan. 2. Cody Franson fed Arnott the puck off the opening faceoff, and the captain skated up and snapped a shot past Johan Hedberg for his 13th this season to put the Predators ahead to stay.
"It was Franny's call," Arnott said. "He came up to me before the draw and said, `If we win it, bust up the middle and I'll hit you,' and he did. And it just happened so fast. It's nice to get back on the winning track though. That's the main thing now and just keep it going."
Bryan Little had two goals for Atlanta, and Chris Thorburn scored short-handed. Atlanta ended a two-game winning streak after failing to score twice with the man advantage after Arnott's goal.
"Our D have to react to come across to the middle," Atlanta coach John Anderson said. "You just don't say, `I've got my man,' and that's it. They didn't react."
Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne, who stopped 23 shots, had some key saves including on Maxim Afinogenov at the end of one of the power plays and Ilya Kovalchuk on a breakaway. Rinne, who has been alternating starts with Dan Ellis, said it was time for some big saves.
"After that I felt more comfortable and more confident," Rinne said.
The turnout was good on a night people were urged to stay at home due to icy roads from a winter storm, but not close to the announced crowd of 16,646.
The Thrashers had a small but loud group to watch the first game between these Southern teams only four hours apart. It's not much of a rivalry with the teams in separate conferences, and this was just the 12th game in this series.
The Predators desperately needed a victory to start a four-game homestand to avoid slipping even further than seventh in the Western Conference before a four-game trip going into the Olympic break. They were coming off a 4-2 loss at Detroit on Friday night where the Predators lost despite outshooting the Red Wings 48-28 - the most shots on the road in franchise history.
Ward got them started quickly, scoring on the Predators' third shot. He backhanded a shot by Erat that Hedberg stopped with his glove but didn't smother to stop play at 3:59 of the first. Smithson made it 2-0 at 9:27 when he stopped a pass with his left skate, spun around and put a wrister past Hedberg from the slot just in front of the crease.
Anderson wasn't happy with what he called two boneheaded plays early, especially considering his Thrashers had been resting in Nashville since a 4-3 win in Philadelphia on Thursday night.
"We were not sharp. It was as simple as that," Anderson said.
Little got Atlanta on the board with a power-play goal at 13:57 with a slap shot from the slot off a pass from Todd White.
Nashville bogged down again in the second period, wasting 1:24 of a 5-on-3. The Predators got lucky the whistle blew to wipe out Evander Kane's goal on a 2-on-1 breakaway at 6:55 of the second, and then Erat made it 3-1 at 11:12. Erat scored on a slap shot from the high slot off a pass Ward sent to him just after he skated across the blue line.
It didn't last long.
Thorburn ruined a Nashville power play as he backhanded the puck off the rebound of Marty Reasoner's shot at 12:23. Little tied it up at 3-3 with his own backhanded goal off the rebound of Kovalchuk's shot at 15:02.
NOTES: Nashville improved to 20-3-1 when scoring first and 6-4 in the second game of a back-to-back set. ... The Predators sent forward Andreas Thuresson to AHL Milwaukee earlier Saturday. ... The Predators have outshot their opponents 213-130 in the past six games.
Head Coach Barry Trotz
About giving Atlanta momentum in the second…
Two things: “A” we had played last night and expended a lot of energy and “B” we had given them back momentum. We talked about going into the third; when things aren’t going your way, we play very well. There weren’t a lot of holes in our game. You get tested that one last time to see if you are willing to go the distance to get a win. It tests your character and your mettle and all of that. We responded great in the third. That was a huge goal right off the bat. Great outlet pass to Arnie (Jason Arnott) and Arnie just went in there with no doubt that it was going in. From that standpoint, it was huge. All of a sudden we got back on top.
We played hard and we got a big save from Pekka off of Kovalchuk on the breakaway. Big save at the end of the power play – Afinogenov from Kovalchuk – that was huge. It probably wasn’t our best game in terms of a lot of areas in our game but it might have been one of our best games in terms of our character and being tested on your will. And that’s sometimes very important for a team, especially getting out. If you hang onto that little extra second or minute when things aren’t going really well, you find out how close you are to coming out of it.
About killing two big penalties in the third period…
It was huge. They obviously got momentum on our power play when they scored the shorthanded goal and on the 5-on-3 we weren’t able to get set up – we just didn’t make good decisions. They got momentum from that and those are key things. Obviously everybody wants to put a lot of emphasis on that. But we wanted to do a couple of things tonight. We wanted to come out really well tonight because we played last night and expended a lot of energy and Atlanta was sitting here for the last two days waiting for us. We knew that we couldn’t fall behind and that was really important for us – especially playing last night. We played hard last night and expended a lot of energy and we knew they were a skilled, fast, dangerous team and that was really key. We had a little sag about halfway through the (third) period and then we did a really good job. They didn’t have a lot of shots or chances in the second period and we drew some penalties and did all those things but then we didn’t execute on the power play and they got momentum off that – they got a shorthanded goal. A big turnover on the wall by Jordin (Tootoo) and all of a sudden they are in the game and have momentum.
To me that was a real turning point to be tested and that was an opportunity to show what we were made of. And that’s what we did – it wasn’t pretty. In a lot of ways it was an ugly game in a sense but we gutted it out. As harsh and ugly as it looked at times, the beauty of the thing was we gutted it out and found a way to win and that was important.
Center Jason Arnott
On his own play right now…
It’s beyond frustrating right now. The main thing is I have to keep working – just going out every night and hopefully they’ll start going in. We’re getting key goals from other guys right now and that’s what it takes. When some guys aren’t scoring, the other guys are picking up the slack.
On the difference between tonight and the last five games…
I think we’ve been playing pretty well. It’s just a few things here and there that are costing us games. Tonight we stuck with it and kept working at it. We’ll take the two points whether it’s ugly or not.
Right Wing Martin Erat
On getting back in the win column…
It’s nice, especially starting the four games in a row at home. But it is one game and we have to keep going.
On allowing Atlanta to tie the game at 3-3 after leading 3-1…
We weren’t really worried. It was our mistakes. I think we were pretty much in control all 60 minutes. They have a couple chances but I think we played a pretty good game overall.
On getting the saves from Rinne…
It helped us – it’s always great when goalies can make big saves and keep us in the game. He probably saved the game and we got two points from it.
Goaltender Pekka Rinne
On getting big saves in the third period…
It was time for that – we needed those couple saves. After that I felt more comfortable and more confident. The guys did a good job. We knew they were going to come hard – they have some individuals who can shoot the puck.
On building his confidence…
I haven’t been playing at a level that I want and need to play at. Hopefully after tonight that changes and I think I’ve learned something during this stretch. For me it’s been a different kind of year – having a different situation than I planned. It’s been a learning curve for me.