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Preds Goaltenders Settling In

by Jay Levin / Nashville Predators
Entering this season the Nashville Predators had the most inexperienced goaltending tandem in the NHL with Dan Ellis and Pekka Rinne sporting a combined 54 games of NHL experience – including playoffs.

Many hockey pundits used this as a reason to pick against the Preds this season. And on a first look at the stats, people may assume Ellis is struggling under the pressure of being a No. 1 goaltender. However the surface stats are a little misleading. And as the NHL season creeps toward the turn of the calendar year, the Preds goaltending tandem has proven itself quite nicely. Dan Ellis has settled in as the team’s No. 1 go-to-guy, while Pekka Rinne has adjusted to life in the NHL.

“You look at the save percentage and goals against and the numbers probably aren’t where Dan would want them, but Dan has had some misfortune,” Head Coach Barry Trotz explained. “We’ve had a bunch of five-on-threes and Dan has been a part of that. We chart the goals that we give up – was that a routine save, did he have a chance, or did he have no chance – and Dan’s save percentage on shots that aren’t supposed to be goals is very high.”

Looking deeper inside the statistics, Ellis has posted a .930 save percentage in even-strength situations, very similar to the .933 he recorded in even strength situations last season. The oddity has come on special teams, but much of that can be attributed to the high number of three-on-fives the Predators have had to try to kill off through the first third of the season.

“We haven’t done a good enough job on a lot of the special teams,” Trotz said. “For example the first goal they scored the other week against Minnesota, on the five-on-three, there was no chance. He was screened and it was a shot that was under the bar. I don’t expect any goalie to save that. A goalie may get lucky, but I don’t expect a save on a shot like that.”

Further Ellis’s win-loss record contains a pair of losses in statistical quirks. Early in the season at Columbus, Ellis entered the game with the Preds trailing 3-0 and stopped 18-of-20 shots, but when Nashville scored early in the third period to pull within one goal of the Blue Jackets at 3-4, Ellis, the netminder who had allowed the fourth Columbus score, was saddled the with loss. A similar situation played out on November 6 at Calgary, when Ellis entered with the team down 4-0, but took the loss when David Legwand scored early in the third period to make the score 7-4 Calgary.

“I think it’s been pretty smooth,” Ellis said of his transition a starting goaltender. “You can’t let as many little things bother you (as a starter). One of the benefits of being a starter is if you do have a down game, you’re probably going to be back in there the next game or the game after that, so you have a quick opportunity to change the results. For the most part, I feel like the stresses and things like that are a non-factor. I feel great in the net. Conditioning is better than it’s ever been. It’s been a smooth transition, I just want a little better results.”

The results have been turning around for Ellis. Over his last six starts Ellis has posted a 1.79 goals against average and .932 save percentage. He’s allowed just five even-strength goals over those last six starts.

“I’ve been feeling the puck really well and seeing the puck really well. I felt I got into a good rhythm at the end of the West Coast trip and then I ran in to Minnesota and let in another five power-play goals. As a starter, I can’t let a game like that to frustrate me and get me away from feeling the way I did during the wins I was stringing together. That’s the key, staying focused and staying positive and not letting one game change and turn into a losing streak or slump.”

Ellis has bounced back strong from the Minnesota game, stopping 87-of-90 shots in his three starts since the contest vs. the Wild.

His partner in the crease, Pekka Rinne, has rolling along strong as well. The first week in Decemeber, Rinne went 3-0-0 with two shutouts to earn the NHL’s First Star of the week. He has held opponents to one goal or fewer in three of his last eight starts, including two of his last four.

“I feel more comfortable,” Rinne said. “Things are a little bit quicker in the NHL than the AHL, but probably skill wise is the biggest difference. In the NHL everybody can score and everybody shoots pretty well. A lot of times in the AHL there’s a lot of speed and not that much structure. But I feel like I’m used to it now. I feel pretty comfortable out there after a few straight starts.”

Not only has Rinne started to become more comfortable with the pace of the NHL, but he’s also settling in with his defensemen.

“They are doing a good job of letting me know where the puck is and when I have the puck where they want me to play it and that kind of stuff. It’s a big thing for them to be used to me when I’m in the net. I feel like we are doing a pretty good job of communicating right now.”

With both goaltenders rolling along, the Predators coaches have been able to ease the workload on Ellis.

“I think in the long-run, I think players need it and goaltenders need it,” coach Trotz said, “where you have a little bit of a break and you get to sit back a little and you body gets a chance to heal. Your mind gets to be fresher. And hopefully it can keep you playing at a high level through the grind of the full season.”

Not only are the goaltenders both playing well on the ice, but the duo are forming a strong bond off the ice, as well.

“It’s awesome; Peks and I get along extremely well,” Ellis said. “He’s an outstanding guy and a good person. He’s a great goaltender. He’s having an awesome year so far. He’s really helping our team continue to climb that ladder. When you have a partner in goal that can get you wins and get the team wins, that’s most beneficial for the group.”

Rinne was equally as complimentary of his teammate.

“He’s such a nice guy and a great goalie. That’s the good thing for me playing in my first year – there’s always stuff I can learn from him. Just working every day with him, it’s been great. We get along really well. Every day at the rink we have a lot of fun.”

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