Resurgent Rinne not enough for Predators in loss to Buffalo

Saturday, October 10, 2009 at 10:27pm
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Preds goaltender Pekka Rinne let just one Sabres' puck get past him but it was enough to beat him Saturday night. / Mike Strasinger for The City Paper

Pekka Rinne made everyone forget his play in the preseason Saturday. Instead, the 26-year-old Nashville Predators’ goalie stirred memories of his performance during the final months of last season.

In his 2009-10 debut, Rinne made 41 saves and held the Buffalo Sabres scoreless for 56:35. The one goal he allowed to Mike Grier – a rebound chance with 3:25 remaining – was the only one of the night, however, and the crowd of 14,209 that chanted Rinne’s name at one point in the third period went home disappointed after a 1-0 defeat.

“Pekks was standing on his head,” defenseman Shea Weber said. “I didn’t think anyone was going to beat him. Unfortunately, that one went in. But he did all he could and we didn’t help him as much as we should.”

It was the Predators’ first loss of the season and the second time (in three games) they allowed at least 40 shots.

Nashville (2-1-0) was outshot in every period, including 13-6 in the final 20 minutes. Buffalo had 17 shots in the second period, the most allowed by the Predators thus far, and the final count was 42-25 in the Sabres’ favor.

Grier had a game-high six, which was at least twice as many as any Nashville player.

“We had a lot of chances, and Rinne played great in there," Grier said. "He's a big wall and he made it tough for us."

Just before the goal, Buffalo (1-1-1) had three shots in a span of 33 seconds and forced a scramble, which led to the Nashville net being knocked loose.

The Sabres won the resultant neutral zone faceoff and went right back on the attack. Grier took one shot, which was blocked by defenseman Ryan Suter, but hit the mark with a backhand swing at the rebound.

“He just whacked the puck, and it was by me before I even knew it,” Rinne said. “There was a lot of traffic in front.”

Rinne sat in favor of Dan Ellis during the first two games after he was winless (0-2) and allowed 10 of the 16 goals scored against Nashville in the preseason. His goals-against average (3.97) and save percentage (80.0) in those four appearances were unexpected after he recorded the team’s final 15 wins of last season.

Against the Sabres, who tied for 10th in goals scored last season, he stopped six shots when the Predators were shorthanded, two during a two-minute four-on-four segment of the second period and 33 with the teams at full strength.

Buffalo’s Ryan Miller turned aside all 25 he faced, including a shorthanded breakaway by Marcel Goc fewer than two minutes before Grier scored.

“They were better than us – I’m not making any excuses,” coach Barry Trotz said. “… They throw a lot of pucks right to crease area, and if you misplay one or don’t get a handle on one … they convert on it. That’s what ended up happening.

“For the most part, that was a great goaltending performance by (Rinne). I thought he was really good. I thought he was sharp. He was moving well, I just wish we could have gotten to the overtime. The way he was going he probably was going to win the game for us.”

Briefly

• Forward Joel Ward played for the first time this season and blocked two shots and had one hit in 15:50 of ice time. His 2:36 on the penalty kill was second to Goc among Nashville forwards and both of his blocked shots came with Buffalo on the power play.

Wade Belak was scratched to make room for Ward.

• Coming into the night, Nashville and Buffalo were two of six teams that had not allowed a first-period goal this season. Both remained unscored upon in the opening 20 minutes.

• Goc was perfect (seven-for-seven) on faceoffs through the first two periods and won 12 of 14 for the contest.

• J.P. Dumont (soreness) and Jordin Tootoo (hip flexor) remained sidelined. Dumont has missed the last two games, and Tootoo has missed all three.

Dumont is scheduled to skate on Sunday.