Perhaps the Nashville Predators can explain away Thursday’s performance as some sort of interpretation of Steve Sullivan’s time with the franchise.
After all, no Nashville player had more of a sudden impact than the diminutive forward, who had four points in his first game and remained a consistent offensive force throughout his seven seasons.
If that’s the case, the Predators simply have to hope that their 7-4 loss before the latest sellout crowd at Bridgestone Arena was not a backbreaker in terms of their playoff hopes.
They started the day in ninth place in the Western Conference standings but the three teams directly ahead of them all had played one fewer game. The feeling in the dressing room was that Nashville’s players were not ready to play this one.
“That’s pretty obvious,” captain Shea Weber said. “When it comes down to it we weren’t engaged. We weren’t ready to go and they were. The next thing you know we’re down 5-0.
“… It’s pretty embarrassing in your own building.”
Sullivan somehow failed to register a goal or an assist but his 1,000th career NHL game was one worthy of a player who provided some of the most compelling offensive moments in franchise history. The only problem was that he was with the other club.
Twelve of his Coyotes teammates had at least a point, led by defenseman Rostislav Klesla, who had four assists, and Radim Vrbata, who had two goals and an assist.
“I don’t think we could have picked a better spot to play 1,000 games,” Sullivan said. “This is where I called home for seven years. This is where my kids grew up. This is pretty much all they remember. For them to come back and see friends and family and watch a milestone night for myself, it was like it was meant to be.”
The Coyotes scored five times within the first 8:26 of the contest and led 6-3 after one. It was the highest-scoring period in franchise history. The nine goals were two more than the previous high of seven combined goals, which happened six times previously, including once this season.
It also matched the record for most goals allowed by Nashville in a single period. Pekka Rinne was pulled after he allowed three on three shots and Chris Mason allowed the next three. Rinne was back in the nets at the start of the second period.
“It was embarrassing,” Rinne said. “Everything they did found a way to the back of the net. … It’s been a while since I’ve been a part of that kind of game, that kind of first 10 minutes and it’s tough.”
The frenetic start was not unlike Sullivan’s debut with the Predators on Feb. 18, 2004, two days after he was acquired in a trade with Chicago. He had three goals and an assist that night in a 7-3 victory over the Sharks.
When he finally left the franchise following the 2010-11 season, he was one of only three players ever with at least 100 goals and 100 assists for Nashville. He also was the team’s first player to win a major NHL award — the Masterton Trophy, which he earned in 2009 after his return from a back injury that caused him to miss nearly two calendar years.
The Predators recognized his milestone with a pregame presentation of print that commemorated his time with the franchise and with an announcement during a first-period stoppage.
For most of the night, though, they were unrecognizable to themselves and their supporters, who had witnessed victories in the previous three home games. The last of those was Monday against Edmonton.
“I’ve been here a long time and I haven’t seen anything like that,” coach Barry Trotz said. “… They scored three goals on three shots. They had five goals on six shots. Mentally, that’s pretty stunning because that doesn’t happen very often.
“… You give up five goals that quickly it plays on you more mentally than anything.”
• Briefly: Mike Fisher went to the locker room with just under four minutes remaining after he blocked a shot. The puck hit him in the right hand, but X-rays following the contest were inconclusive. “They can’t read it with that they have [in the arena],” Trotz said. … Nashville matched its season-high with 38 shots on goal. It outshot Phoenix in all three periods, including 17-13 in the first.