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Rinne shuts out Jets; Neal scores first with Predators

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- The Nashville Predators installed a new coach, a new system and several new forwards this summer, but an old standby might remain the biggest factor this season in the competitive Central Division.

Goaltender Pekka Rinne made 31 saves in a 2-0 win against the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre on Friday. It was the 31-year-old's first shutout of the season and his third since he returned to action near the end of last season after missing 51 games because of a hip injury.

Rinne has allowed five goals in four games for the Predators (3-0-1).

"I thought that it was a pretty good team effort," Rinne said. "That was a pretty classic road game. I'm really happy how we played."

Mike Ribeiro and James Neal scored goals for Nashville; defenseman Anton Volchenkov had two assists.

"I thought it was a good hockey game," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. "I think maybe it was our best team game, rolling all of our players, six defensemen, four lines, great goaltending, good discipline. Just a good team game, especially on the road."

Ondrej Pavelec made 25 saves for the Jets, who lost their home opener and have lost three straight games.

"There wasn't a lot of offense to be had," Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice said. "The simple answer is that we've got to put more of the basic stuff on net so that we can find a way bang some ugly ones in until the offensive guys get that good feeling around the net."

Ribeiro, an offseason signing after being bought out by the Arizona Coyotes, scored his second goal of the season when he deflected a long left-point shot by Seth Jones through Pavelec's pads at 16:20 of the first period. Ribeiro has a goal in back-to-back games.

Rinne stopped Jim Slater's second-period shorthanded breakaway and denied several quality chances from Mark Scheifele, including a third-period save in-close.

"Awesome," Laviolette said of Rinne. "He was awesome. He was sharp with the saves that he made, but he was also sharp in the fact that a lot of pucks that came in through traffic he was either able to glove them down or freeze them, and that kind of killed things and eliminated second opportunities."

"I thought the team defense was really good in front of [Rinne], and I thought the core of defensemen played an excellent game as well, but he was sharp."

Neal, another offseason acquisition, scored his first goal with Nashville at 7:31 of the third period. Neil, who the Predators acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins, took a pass at the bottom of the left circle and used a tip by Winnipeg defenseman Adam Pardy to lift a shot over Pavelec's right shoulder.

Nashville plays at the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday.

Since a 6-2 season-opening road win against Arizona on Oct. 9 in which the Jets lost forward Evander Kane to a knee injury, Winnipeg has managed one goal in three games and has been shut out twice.

"Obviously you want the chances," Scheifele said. "That's the starting point. Now we've got to buckle down more when we get those chances. Obviously when you lose, you get frustrated. But it's still early and we can't hang our heads."

Maurice said that as the game progressed, he could feel that beating Rinne was going to be a difficult task. Given Winnipeg's scoring problems this season, which includes going scoreless in 12 power-play opportunities, Rinne was not the goaltender that the Jets needed to see.

"I felt like I was seeing the puck really well," Rinne said. "It was one of those nights where it feels like the game is slowing down in front of you, you feel good and you see the puck."

Rinne, Nashville's all-time leader in wins, had hip surgery in May 2013. He appeared to be healthy at the start of last season, but required a second operation in late October when the hip became infected and didn't play in a game until March 4. He had two shutouts in seven games after reclaiming the starting job.

"It was a tough season last year," Rinne said. "It took forever to get back. I'm just having so much fun and enjoying hockey. I had a really good summer and got back to where I need to be physically. I'm just trying to enjoy it and stay healthy."

The rehab process wasn't easy.

"It drives you," Rinne said of his injury and rehabilitation process. "You want to be at your best at all times. When you face injuries and you come back, you feel like it's not going to faze you and not change you as a goalie, but it does. It's hard to accept. It's just one of those things where you have to put your work boots on, work hard and try to get back."

"I want to be back to where I need to be and where I want to be, and that's playing well every night and being consistent."

After finishing the NHL season with the Predators, Rinne guided Finland to a silver medal at the 2014 World Championship and earned top-player honors for a performance that included three shutouts and 1.88 goals-against average.

After a summer of training, Rinne said the hip injury has not required him to change his game from a technical standpoint.

"Everything, my range of motion and all of that stuff, is like it used to be," Rinne said.

Neal, who has reached 20 or more goals six times in his NHL career, has gained an appreciation for Rinne at training camp and practice since joining the Predators.

"Personally, shooting on him every day, he's so quick, so big," Neal said. "He's a hard guy to score on, so athletic. He gives a chance to win every night."

But as much as Laviolette and Rinne's teammates liked their goaltender's performance, Rinne returned the praise for the Predators as they begin their transition to a new coach after Barry Trotz was let go after last season.

"I like the way that we've been handling the bigger picture," Rinne said. "We're trying to look not so much at the results. That's the one thing that so far I've noticed. You focus on the team game and try to be better every night, and the results will follow."

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