By Jim Diamond
It didn’t end the way he intended, but Peter Laviolette’s decision to start Pekka Rinne in goal Tuesday night against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks was the right move to make.
Yes, Rinne has struggled for most of this season, and he’s been mediocre at best for the last month or so, but if this Predators team has any hope of going anywhere, like say the playoffs, they are going to need Rinne to be the one who gets them there.
At 33, Rinne still has some time left to regain his standing as one of the NHL’s elite goaltenders, but that window won’t be open forever. And if the Predators hope to contend for a Cup anytime soon, they will need the 6’5” Finn to get back to the form that has seen him be a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist.
With Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Blackhawks, the Predators have dropped six of their last seven, and Rinne was between the pipes for all but one of those losses, and he wasn’t the one who earned the lone victory either, that was a Carter Hutton shutout of the Minnesota Wild Saturday night.
In stopping just 23 of the 26 Chicago shots he faced Tuesday, Rinne’s save percentage for 2015-16 fell to .901, which would be the lowest of his eight NHL seasons.
“Obviously my play hasn’t been anywhere near where it should be or I want it to be,” Rinne said. “Obviously working trying to do everything I can, trying to work through it, trying to get back up there and gain some confidence going forward. It’s been hard.”
There is plenty of blame to be shared among the team though, as the team in front of Rinne was poor at times Tuesday, symbolic of many of the previous games in which the end result was a Nashville loss. And against a team as dangerous as the Blackhawks, who won their 12th in a row Tuesday, any mistakes usually end up in the back of your net.
On Chicago’s first goal, Filip Forsberg turned over a puck inside the Nashville zone moments before Artem Anisimov made a nice move around a sliding Rinne in the first period’s final seconds.
In the second, Richard Panik doubled the Blackhawks lead on a shot that Rinne probably should have stopped, but the play probably shouldn’t have been allowed to develop as it did. In the neutral zone, Anthony Bitetto tried to hit Paul Gaustad with a pass at the blue line. It missed and Chicago turned the play back toward the Nashville zone.
Chicago’s third goal came on a Patrick Kane breakaway after Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm lost track of the league’s leading scorer. That goal came just a minute after Ellis made it a 2-1 game early in the second, a momentum changing swing for sure.
Following the game, Predators head coach Peter Laviolette was not pleased with some of the errors his team made in the loss.
“Defensively we didn’t let up a lot,” he said. “There weren’t a lot quality chances. There weren’t a lot of shots, but the ones that we let up, there’s three or four (or) five of them that I’d like back because they were too big. The chances were too big.”
Nashville begins a pre-All-Star break four-game road swing through Western Canada Thursday in Winnipeg.