Predators relied too much on Rinne for season's first two wins

Monday, October 10, 2011 at 6:27pm

In theory, the drill was a mismatch in favor of the offense. In reality, it turned out to be a stalemate … at best.

Goalie Pekka Rinne made a series of sprawling, sliding and spinning saves that had his Nashville Predators teammates banging their sticks on the ice and against the boards in tribute at one point during Monday’s workout.

Forget the notion, though, that practice makes perfect. Rinne, the 2010 Vezina Trophy finalist, did much of the same against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday and the St. Louis Blues on Saturday as Nashville opened the season with a pair of victories.

“We won [those games] because of goaltending and special teams,” coach Barry Trotz said Monday. “Our power play was good, our penalty kill was good and Pekka was very good. … We still have the work ethic and all of that, but we need to clean up the defensive part of our game.”

Through the first four days of the season, Rinne was one of five NHL goalies with two victories. Of those five (the other four all play for Eastern Conference teams), Rinne’s 63 saves and 67 shots faced were the most.

The Blue Jackets outshot the Predators 34-31 and the Blues followed with a decisive advantage, 33-16.

“It would be nice to give him a little more help than that,” forward Jerred Smithson said. “That was a lot of work he put in over the weekend. If it wasn’t for him, it could have been a different situation.”

Nashville has started 2-0 for the third straight year and the fifth time overall. The impact of this season’s victories are heightened by the fact that both were against Central Division opponents, something that was not true in any of the other instances.

Even so, the Predators had plenty on which to work when they returned to the ice following a day off.

“I thought our [defensive] zone [play] was poor, and that’s what we spent a lot of time on [Monday],” Trotz said. “It wasn’t necessarily positional. It was battling — we’re mirroring people, we’re not real hard.”

That, in turn, made things difficult for Rinne.

It was no different Monday in one particular drill, which challenged defensive players to make decisions when they were outnumbered two-to-one, three-to-two or five-to-three.

Rinne, though, never conceded anything.

“That’s how he is,” Smithson said. “He’s a battler. He does it every single day in practice. We saw it [Monday] in practice — he just cares and he wants to save that puck. That’s a great quality to have.”

Still, it would be better if he did not have to show it so often.

Briefly

• Martin Erat, injured in the opener at Columbus, did not participate in Monday’s workout. He played 15:22 and had a minus-2 rating against the Blue Jackets before he left with what has been called an “upper body injury.”

Trotz classified his status as day-to-day.

• Center Mike Fisher (shoulder) and defenseman Francis Bouillon (concussion) continue to practice with the team, which raises optimism that they can join the lineup before too long.

“I don’t know any return date, but they’re getting closer,” Trotz said. “Every day that they’re involved, the closer they are to being in the lineup.”

• The Milwaukee Admirals opened their season with a 4-1 victory Saturday, which gave Kirk Muller a victory in his debut as a head coach. Third-round draft picks Ryan Thang (2007) and Michael Latta (2009) each had two points.

The Admirals do not play again until Friday.