Fifteen years ago, before the Nashville Predators ever played a game, a running joke in sales meetings was that the most desirable seats for home games might be the ones at the north end of the building.
After all, that was where opponents would attack in the first and third periods. Given that the expansion franchise was not likely to have a lot of talent in its first few seasons, it was reasonable to expect that a lot of the action and the best chance to see some of the NHL’s best players would be there.
The Predators’ expansion years are long gone but the entertainment value of the north end of Bridgestone Arena is as high as ever because that is where Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne plays for two of the three periods.
In particular, he was something to see in the first period of victories over San Jose and Phoenix last Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.
“He’s had to make, especially [Tuesday and Thursday] in the first periods, he allowed us to win the game,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Anytime you’re going to have an impact on a game — those top players, those great players in the league, they have impact when you’re not stabilized. He did it [those] two games. We got off to a little bit of slow or shaky starts and he [was] able to stabilize us.”
The Sharks outshot the Predators 13-3 in the opening 20 minutes and the Coyotes had a 7-6 edge but neither got any of them past Rinne. Nashville ultimately beat San Jose 1-0 in overtime and turned back Phoenix 3-0 with three third-period goals.
The Predators have not trailed after the first period in any of their eight home games thus far, which has a lot to do with the fact that it has gotten at least a point in six of those seven, the latest of which was Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss to Anaheim. They have, however, been outshot in the first period in six of those eight.
Only six teams have allowed fewer first-period goals than the Predators, who have given up eight.
“I’m feeling good but I think the biggest thing right now is the team in front of me — they’re playing so well,” Rinne said. “Defensively we are doing a great job and there’s not too many times [the opponents] have second chances. My job is to make the first save and hopefully hold on to the puck and if there’s a rebound, the last couple games almost every single time the guys have been there for me.”
Rinne is one of six goalies to have appeared in more than 12 games thus far and of that group his 1.63 goals-against average and .936 save percentage are second only to Ottawa’s Brian Anderson (1.61, .948).
It is back on the road briefly Monday for a game against the Colorado Avalanche (2 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee) before two more home games this week against Detroit on Tuesday and Vancouver on Friday. The highest scoring period for the Canucks and Red Wings is the second, which — if form holds — means Rinne might not get to showcase himself for the home fans.
“Everything you have to do to be successful has to start with being able to defend,” Trotz said. “Once you’re able to defend, I think everything piggybacks off that. We’re doing a better job in the defensive zone. It’s starting to extend down the rink a little bit.”
It still doesn’t change the fact that some of the best, most exciting play at Bridgestone Arena comes at the end the home team defends twice.