Trotz warms up his key netminders, leaving rookies in the cold

Monday, September 21, 2009 at 12:08am

As far as Barry Trotz is concerned, the future can wait for another day.

Even with five goalies in training camp, the Nashville Predators’ coach used just three in the first three preseason games. Left out of the action were first-year pros Chet Pickard and Jeremy Smith, who are in a battle for the backup job at Milwaukee.

“For the most part we’re not too worried about our goaltending and we’re not going to spend a lot of time on trying to be fair to guys,” Trotz said. “We’re going to get the two guys ready who are under contract.”

Those two, of course, are Pekka Rinne and Dan Ellis, who have combined for 63 victories over the last two seasons. Ellis started Thursday’s victory over Atlanta and played the second half of Saturday’s triumph over Columbus. Rinne started Friday at Carolina and again on Saturday.

It’s the first time in three years the Predators have returned their two NHL netminders from the previous season.

The only other goalie to get game time last week was Mark Dekanich, who is slated to be the No. 1 at Milwaukee this season. Dekanich played the second half of both Thursday’s and Friday’s victories. He allowed one goal on 28 shots and earned the victory against Carolina.

“(Dekanich) played great,” Ellis said following the preseason opener. “He kept the game close. … (He) was outstanding out there.”

The Predators’ lineups included highly touted prospects at forward (i.e. Colin Wilson and Nick Spaling) and on defense (Jonathan Blum and Ryan Ellis). Yet Smith, a second-round pick in 2007, and Pickard, a first-round choice in 2008, never were in uniform.

The two goalies — along with Dekanich — will be reassigned to Milwuakee, which opens training camp this week. The Admirals’ preseason schedule will consist of a home-and-home with the Chicago Wolves on Friday and Saturday.

That will leave just Rinne and Ellis to get ready for the start of the season, which is in fewer than two weeks.

The focus on veterans in goal is understandable.

Two years ago Chris Mason, now with St. Louis, got off to a slow start and Nashville lost seven of 11. Eventually, Ellis supplanted Mason as the starter.

Then last year Ellis struggled early and the Predators won just five of their first 14. Rinne finished the season as the number one guy.

“One of the things we don’t want to overlook is that our goaltending is pretty well set for this year,” Trotz said. “So I (wasn’t) going to spend a lot of time with getting a game for Pickard or Smith. It’s not that important because we’re set here.”