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Rinne creates goaltending controversy in Preds loss…

The good news? The Nashville Predators, in their first three games, have only allowed five goals.

The bad news? The Nashville Predators, in their first three games, have only scored six.

And none of those six were tonight.

Despite a 41 save effort from Pekka Rinne, the Predators dropped their first game of the season, falling to the Buffalo Sabres at The Sommet Center, 1-0. Former San Jose Shark Mike Grier banged home the winner with less than four minutes remaining in regulation.

Rinne was sharp as a tack tonight, looking nothing like the goaltender with the inflated goals-against average in the pre-season. Matter of fact, it was almost as if he hadn’t missed a beat since March.

Maybe that excuse in the pre-season of “Rinne needs more work to be successful” was actually true.

Penned by almost everyone as the 2009-10 starting netminder in Nashville, Rinne looked shaky during the pre-season while Dan Ellis seemed to stand on his head. Rinne’s lackluster play was a cause for concern for fans as they were finally supposed to have a consistent starter in net. But, once again, Ellis proved that the starting gig in Nashville is never safe and took the reigns. He forced the coaching staff to consider him and consider him they did. So much so that they gave him the nod on opening night. After his strong performance in Dallas, Trotz named Ellis the starter against Colorado in game two and Rinne the starter tonight. No further appointments have been made but, after Rinne’s effort against Buffalo, Trotz has his work cut out for him.

The Sabres peppered the Nashville net with 40 shots on goal before one finally went in. They were coming from all angles too. From the point, from flurry’s in the front of the net, through traffic, on wrap-arounds, during breakaways, off of deflections, on odd-man rushes, etc. Buffalo had their chances and Rinne stopped them all. Until the end.

Despite starting the season 0-1, Rinne created a goaltending controversy with his stellar play tonight. Ellis built his case for starter with a 1.92 GAA and .938 save percentage in the first two games. Rinne built his with a should-have-been Calder-nominated season last year and the 41 save effort tonight.

So what does Head Coach Barry Trotz do? Both have certainly “earned” it so who gets it? Should they rotate goalies every other game? Should they declare a starter and be done with it? Should they trade one for a scorer and settle it that way? Those will be some tough questions Trotz and the coaching staff will have to answer tomorrow and in the coming days.

Whatever they decide, Rinne and Ellis haven’t exactly made the decision making process any easier.

And, in an Olympic year where there’s plenty of back-to-back games on the schedule, that can be a very good thing.

* One of the glaring “momentum shifts” in the game came roughly 12 minutes in when Predators defenseman Kevin Klein stole the puck in the neutral zone and rushed into Sabres territory. Klein skated in with Martin Erat on his right and rookie Mike Santorelli on his left. As Klein skated towards the net, the two Buffalo defensemen collapsed and, instead of putting a shot on goal and trying to create a rebound, he dished the puck off to Erat who mishandled it. Once corralled, Erat centered it to David Legwand who was the late-man in the play but the pass was put too far in front of him and the effort was all for not. This would be the first of many miscues by Nashville attacking players tonight.
* Trotz opted to go with recent call-up Triston Grant as opposed to Wade Belak. Grant turned in a much better effort in his second game, finishing with just over 7:00 of ice time and two hits.
* Joel Ward made his season debut tonight, skating on a line with Ryan Jones and Marcel Goc. Not only were they the most consistent line of the night, but Goc had what ended up being the best Nashville chance late in the contest. He skated in on a shorthanded breakaway with only five minutes remaining but opted to just get a shot on goal instead of trying to deke. Buffalo netminder Ryan Miller made the easy save.
* Rookie Colin Wilson skated in practice today but was held out of the lineup. It’s not out of the question that he’ll make his NHL debut on either Monday against the Edmonton Oilers or Wednesday, on the road, against the Dallas Stars.
* Nashville only had one chance at a power play tonight.
Shea Weber led all Predators in ice time with 24:46 (and that’s without the minute or so of PK time he would’ve had were he not the one in the penalty box in the opening minutes).

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