In the end, the game goes down as a 5-2 loss, but for the Predators, and more importantly Pekka Rinne, the game was not nearly as bad as the final score would indicate.
After three weeks on the shelf with a knee injury sustained January 13th against the Vancouver Canucks, it was expected that Rinne would have some rust as he returned to the lineup Thursday night against the visiting Anaheim Ducks.
But rust combined with some seriously bad (borrowing a phrase from Barry Trotz) puck luck, added up to one night Rinne and the rest of his teammates would like to forget.
Things started off on a positive note even, with Rinne turning aside the first Duck shot on him early in the first when he stopped Jakob Silfverberg from the right side on a shorthanded attempt. The problems started immediately thereafter when Rinne thought he was going to hand the rebound off to Shea Weber, but Weber looked as though he thought the big Finn was going to cover the puck and get a faceoff. Silfverberg recognized the miscommunication, grabbed the puck, and flipped a backhand just underneath the crossbar.
“I was going to play it and keep the play going,” Rinne said. “Our guys were yelling at the same time. ‘Keep it, keep it,’ and then I was kind of between, didn’t really do anything. He was able to poke it off of me and just got it in front of the net and put it in.”
It was a goal that set the tone for the rest of the game.
“Obviously not the way we wanted to start, but the whole game was not good to begin with,” Weber said.
Later in the first, a Sami Vatanen shot deflected off Gabriel Bourque and by Rinne who couldn’t have seen it, making the game 2-0.
Early in the second, Matt Beleskey and Silfverberg scored goals 43 seconds apart to extend the lead to 4-0.
Following the second Silfverberg goal, Predators head coach Peter Laviolette called his one allotted timeout. Goalies don’t always come to the bench during a timeout, but Rinne did on this one, and then something interesting happened.
Laviolette walked to the end of the bench and spoke with Rinne as assistant coach Phil Housley addressed the rest of the team.
“I just wanted to make sure he was okay. I wanted to make sure that physically he was okay, mentally he was okay,” Laviolette said. “I think just coming back off a break like that, I’d rather have a conversation; maybe he wasn’t feeling that good. Everything was fine. I think staying in and battling like he did makes him better. He made some tremendous saves out there.”
Physically Rinne was fine, so there was no way he was going to come out of the game.
“It was good for me to get the minutes and get the full game under my belt,” Rinne said. “You can’t duplicate games in practices. Even though it wasn’t super busy for me, I was still tired, my legs were burning. It was three weeks off for me, now get it going again. I don’t see any more excuses after this one.”
Rinne finished with 21 saves on 25 shots faced. Corey Perry’s empty-net goal accounted for the final scoring margin.
In the end it was a loss, but a necessary step in what the Predators hope is Rinne’s return to pre-injury form. A form that earned him 29 victories and a .931 save percentage entering Thursday night. That same form the team will need him to revert back to if they wish to make a run far into the postseason, maybe even a late May matchup with those same Ducks.