Rinne helps Predators beat Avalanche
NASHVILLE — The Nashville Predators put their penalty kill to the test early and often Saturday night against one of the hottest scoring teams in the league, and the unit passed with flying colors.
Pekka Rinne turned aside 29 shots and the Predators denied the Colorado Avalanche on all seven of their power play chances and posted a 5-2 victory.
The Avalanche, who averaged nearly 4.5 goals a game in their last seven contests, had plenty of chances against Rinne. The Predators, meanwhile, scored twice when they had a man advantage, including on their first chance of the game.
Craig Smith poked a loose puck past Semyon Varlamov right in front of the net with 34.7 seconds left in the opening period to give Nashville a 1-0 lead.
Smith’s seventh goal of the season not only gave the Predators the lead, it came after Nashville’s other special teams’ unit played spectacularly for more than half of the first period.
Colorado spent 10:50 with the man advantage, thanks partially to two Predators bench penalties for too many men on the ice. The Avalanche also got a five-minute power play after Austin Watson received a game misconduct penalty for boarding Dominic Toninato.
The Predators entered Saturday leading the lead in giving up power-play opportunities. Yet, after Saturday’s victory, they have allowed goals on less than 20 percent of the 92 times (18 goals) they’ve been short-handed.
Rinne said his teammates made his job easier by using their sticks to disrupt the Avalanche’s passing lanes and keeping them from getting good shots up close.
“Our penalty killers are trying to let them shoot from the points and things like that where maybe I get a little more time to react,” he said.
Despite effective penalty-killing, allowing so many opportunities indicates the team’s discipline isn’t where it needs to be, Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said.
“We definitely don’t want to roll the dice playing a first period like that with 11 penalty minutes,” he said. “I thought it was a really gutsy period to walk out of there 1-0.”
And while Laviolette praised the penalty kill units, he made sure to include his goalie in that assessment, too.
“Peks was really good,” he said. “He made some big saves early there, too. He’s got to be your best penalty killer. I thought he was.”
Colorado entered the game with the league’s ninth-best power play unit (21.7 percent). However, the unit has struggled mightily on the road and has five goals in 43 chances.
Nashville blew the game open midway through the second period by scoring twice in a span of 87 seconds.
Colton Sissons got his third goal of the year with 10:49 left after redirecting Roman Josi’s pass from the right side of the net.
Shortly after that Anthony Bitetto made it 3-0 with his first of the season on a slap shot from just above the left faceoff circle.
Saturday marked only the eighth game of the season for the 27-year-old defenseman. After not playing in the first five games of November, Bitetto has played in the last three games for Nashville and picked up points in two of them.
Laviolette said Bitetto had been waiting for his opportunity and now is making the most of it. Others are noticing it, too.
“I was happy for him. He’s playing really well and working hard to stay in the lineup,” Rinne said.
Colorado coach Jared Bednar said he liked the way his team competed at even strength for the most part, with the exception of the second period.
“We just didn’t get the job done with the man advantage or on the penalty kill,” he said
Defenseman Mattias Ekholm and Viktor Arvidsson added goals in the third period to make it a 5-0 game. Ekholm has goals in three straight games, and the left winger scored in his second straight.
Colorado avoided its second shutout of the season thanks to goals by Andrei Mironov and J.T. Compher in the final 4:37.
NOTES: By giving up the late goals, Nashville G Pekka Rinne remained tied with Mikkaa Kiprusoff for the most shutouts by a Finnish-born goalie with 44. ... By posting a season-best two assists, Nashville D Roman Josi extended his points streak to three games. ... Colorado scratched D Chris Bigras and LW Gabriel Bourque. ... Nashville scratched LW Pontus Aberg. ... Colorado C Dominic Toninato played 10:20 in his NHL debut after being called up Friday. He was called up a day after Vladislav Kamenev broke his arm in Colorado debut Thursday. ... Colorado D Andrei Mironov posted a season-best two points with a goal and an assist.