Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne is off to an outstanding start and has been rewarded with the richest contract in franchise history. He was solid against the San Jose Sharks last week, but it wasn't enough to get his team the win.
Rinne could be in goal Saturday night looking to exact some revenge and slow down a Sharks team seeking its seventh victory in eight games.
Before taking the ice against Phoenix on Thursday, Rinne celebrated his 29th birthday in style, signing a seven-year, $49 million contract with Nashville (6-4-2). He didn't seem too distracted by lucrative deal, turning aside 35 shots in a 3-0 win that was his third shutout of the season and second in three games.
"I'm not going to say it's just two points," said Rinne, who leads the NHL with 23 shutouts since the start of 2008-09. "It has a different meaning to me. Signing the contract, playing the same day and it's my birthday. It's a pretty special day."
Rinne, who extended his team record by making his 12th straight start to open the season, has led the Predators to a 3-0-1 mark since a 3-1 home loss to the Sharks on Oct. 25.
That game was tied at 1 until Joe Pavelski, who leads San Jose (7-4-0) with eight goals, scored at 14:09 of the third period and added an empty net goal with 1:12 remaining. Rinne stopped 33 shots and has gone 0-1-2 with a 2.26 goals-against average in starting Nashville's last three games against the Sharks.
San Jose's Antti Niemi made 19 saves in Nashville last week, but hasn't been nearly as sharp in his last two games.
After stopping 26 shots in a 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers in the final game of a lengthy road trip Monday, Niemi was pulled 2:04 into a 4-3 shootout win over Pittsburgh on Thursday. He allowed two goals on six shots in the shortest outing of his career.
"I didn't think he was ready to play," coach Todd McLellan said. "(The benching) sent a message that he has to be ready."
Thomas Greiss stepped in and stopped 29 of 30 shots before denying all three shootout attempts. He is 3-2-0 with a 1.99 GAA on the season, and 1-1-0 with a 3.54 GAA in two career starts against the Predators.
Niemi is 4-2-0 with a 2.15 GAA versus Nashville, and McLellan didn't announce a starter for this game following Thursday's contest.
Although the Sharks rallied against the Penguins with third-period goals from Ryane Clowe and Jamie McGinn, McLellan was frustrated with the listless start in the opener of a six-game homestand following a 5-1-0 trip.
"Our team was not prepared to play," McLellan said. "I know a lot of people will speculate that coming back from a road trip that can happen, but to put ourselves in that position it's unacceptable. It's two points, but we'll be discussing our starts. There's no doubt about that."
Slow starts have been a problem lately for San Jose. The Sharks have been outscored 5-2 in the first period in four contests since leading 1-0 after 20 minutes in Nashville.
Predators forward Patric Hornqvist didn't get on the scoresheet against the Sharks, extending his season-opening stretch without a point to seven games. He has at least a goal in all four games since, however, and suddenly leads the team with five.
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