Pekka Rinne showing consistent flashes of brilliance
Lately, Nashville's star netminder hasn't really seemed to be on top of his game.
Whether he's still not 100 percent from his long-term injury last season, age is becoming a factor or something more on the mental aspect is ailing him, it's been increasing clear that the Rinne that Predators fans became used to over the past handful of seasons may not ever return.
That's why games like the ones Rinne played against Montreal on Monday night are those that give us a glimpse through the looking glass as to how well he could be doing with just a tad more consistent play.
That, however, is what we've been saying for the past month, right? The roster just needs to be more consistent?
Well, a lot of that starts and ends with Rinne. Entering Monday night, Rinne had only three wins in his last 13 stars -- none of them coming in consecutive games.
"[Rinne] was really good tonight," said head coach Peter Laviolette. "He was sharp, sharp. Not only was it the quantity of saves he made, but the quality as well. There were lots of chance and big saves at the right time."
Timely saves, great post-to-post movement, a quick glove hand and his overall awareness just hasn't been there for at least a month. That's why his play against the Canadiens was a treat to watch.
Montreal had a handful of plays where I genuinely thought the puck was destined for the back of the net. Chances by David Desharnais and Alex Galchenyuk during the first and second period I thought were a sure thing. Rinne was there for both of them.
Although the Canadiens broke Rinne's shutout bid midway through the third period, he would still skate off with 35 saves on 36 shots. Combine that with Saturday night's total and he's stopped a total of 55 shots out of 58.
"Tonight it seemed like he was sharper," continued Laviolette. "We relied on him more. He needed to be sharp when we needed the big saves. When it was 0-0, he made a big save. When it was 1-0, he made a few big saves. That could quickly turn the other way."
Roman Josi and Shea Weber are a joy to watch
I've noted before that Weber may be on the decline and have said how it wouldn't surprise me if the organization traded him for the elusive first line center.
The more and more he plays alongside Josi, the more and more I just can't get enough of it.
Both of Nashville's first two goals were direct results of one passing to the other and putting the puck on net. First, it was a nifty Josi drop-pass to Weber who obliterated the puck past Montreal goaltender Dustin Tokarski for a 1-0 lead. Then it was Weber returning the favor to Josi to make it 2-0 on a power play goal.
Weber has had himself one hell of a December, netting four goals and 11 assists for the lead in points scored during the month.
Josi has done just as well, collecting five goals and seven assists to add to his team-leading 26 points in his 34 games played.
"He's going to keep getting better," said Weber. "He's got a lot of good hockey left ahead of him. I think everyone realizes how good he is. If you haven't, you might want to turn on some of our games because he's obviously a special player."
That's what Nashville's top defensive pairing offers every night. They've been, and continue to be, the best pairing in the league. That's not an understatement or homerism, either.
Back-to-back wins for the first time in over a month
That's right, you read that correctly: Nashville recorded wins in back-to-back games for the first time since November 14th and November 17th over one month ago.
"That's one thing we were looking for: more consistency," said Josi. "I think we did a good job the last two games. Tonight, we didn't start that well. I thought [the Canadiens] were the better team through two periods. [Rinne] stood on his head and kept us in the game."
It's hard to believe that it's taken over a month for the Predators to seemingly get back on track, however they haven't necessarily played very well in the same stretch of play.
In reality, Nashville was earning plenty of great chances and opportunities during its most recent rough stretch, but literally could not hit the broad side of the largest barn in Iowa if they had to.
Too many shots being centered right into the crest of the goaltender. Too many pucks bouncing over the sticks of the Predators. Too many goals that should have been stopped by Rinne.
That's the nature of how Nashville's season has gone: luck and bounces one night, no luck and no bounces the other. It's not going to get any easier for the Predators over the next four games, either.
Nashville sees the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers at home after the holiday break before heading out to match up against the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars to finish a roaring 2015 calendar year.
Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators -- It can't be understated tonight just how dominant Rinne played against Montreal on Monday night. Laviolette noted he looked sharper and it was, in my opinion, the best game Rinne has played in over a month. That's what Nashville needed. It's what they will continue to need if they want to survive in the über-competitive Central Division.
Roman Josi, Nashville Predators -- Josi continues his torrid pace with a two-point night against the Canadiens and growing his team-high point total to 26, only one over his defensive partner. While he may get into the Norris debate this season, Josi's one of a handful of key elements that the Predators would be in much trouble if they ever lost.
Shea Weber, Nashville Predators -- 15 points already in the month of December, which leads all players across the league -- three of which came on Monday evening. It's tough to fathom how Weber hasn't won a Norris Trophy yet. He's been consistently one of the best in the league at his job and has been cheated out of at least one Norris win during his career. I don't see him winning it this season either, but he'll have to challenge Josi for it here before too long.