Nashville Predators @ San Jose Sharks Preview: Backs Against the Wall

SAN JOSE CA - JANUARY 08: Shane O'Brien #55 of the Nashville Predators falls ono the ice after being hit by Dany Heatley #15 of the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion on January 8 2011 in San Jose California. Goalie Pekka Rinne #35 of the Predators and Joe Thornton #19 of the Sharks follow the action on the ice. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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"These are the times that try men's souls." - Thomas Paine 

While taken completely out of context, the above quote could very well describe the circumstances that the Nashville Predators are currently playing under. At 75 points, the Preds would be out of the playoffs for only the second time in six years if they started today. In the other corner stands the San Jose Sharks, who have gone a paltry 17-3-1 in their past 21 games and sit firmly atop the Pacific Division. 

On the other hand, of course, all may not actually be lost - Nashville is 2-0-1 against San Jose this year, and, offensive woes aside, seem to have developed a reasonable recipe for neutralizing the Sharks... 

Pekka Rinne

#35 / Goalie / Nashville Predators

6-5

207

Nov 03, 1982

GP MIN W L EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2010 - Pekka Rinne 49 2882 23 19 101 2.10 1425 1324 .929 5

Yep, that's it. In his first game against San Jose this year, Rinne stopped what was then a season-high (for him) 42 shots. Then, in February, Rinne one-upped himself:

When Pekka Rinne plays the way he did tonight, 99 times out of 100, the Predators will win the game. He made an astounding 48 saves, but the team as a whole couldn't finish their chances, which is unfortunate - Rinne is consistently outclassing every skater on the ice, which even Patrick Marleau recognized: "He stood in there tall...he is definitely one of the top goalies in the league," Marleau said.   

Since then, Rinne has continued his all-world play, remaining in 2nd place in both major goaltending categories behind Tim Thomas.

All of this is well and good. Nashville certainly wouldn't be anywhere in the playoff hunt without Rinne, who is likely in line for a Vezina Trophy nomination. That said, it should make the coaching staff, players, and fan base extremely uncomfortable if they have to rely entirely on Rinne in order to stay competitive, and right now, that's the case. 

The point here is simply this: if the Nashville Predators are going to qualify for the playoffs, then the skaters must step up:

It's time where we need Colin Wilson who has two points in 11 games. He has to step up here...    

...There are some young guys in the lineup who are letting their games slide a little bit when they're not playing heavy minutes, they're not acting very mature. - Barry Trotz  to Joshua Cooper

Pekka Rinne has been nothing short of a minor deity. It's high time his teammates bail him out. 

Star-divide

Tonight's projected lineups: 

Forwards
Kostitsyn - Fisher - Hornqvist
Ward - Legwand - Erat (A)
Tootoo - Smithson - Spaling
Wilson - Geoffrion - Halischuk
Defense
Suter (A) - Weber (C)
Klein - Blum
O'Brien - Franson

Antti Niemi

#31 / Goalie / San Jose Sharks

6-2

210

Aug 29, 1983

GP MIN W L EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2010 - Antti Niemi 45 2642 25 16 105 2.38 1301 1196 .919 5
Forwards
Couture - Thornton - Setoguchi
Clowe - Marleau - Heatley
Mitchell - Pavelski - Wellwood
Eager - McCarthy - Mayers
Defense
Braun - Murray
Vlasic - Demers
White - Wallin
X
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