Pekka Rinne is a favorite to win his first Vezina Trophy, and his steady play is a major reason the Nashville Predators sit atop the NHL standings.
He’ll look to help Nashville win seven in a row for the first time in more than five years as it begins a three-game trip Thursday night against the New York Islanders in a matchup of division leaders.
Rinne leads the NHL with 34 wins despite recently missing eight games due to injury, and he’s also among the league frontrunners in goals-against average (1.94) and save percentage (.932).
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He has a 1.32 GAA while winning five times during Nashville’s season-best six-game winning streak after making a season-high 42 saves in Tuesday’s 5-1 home win over San Jose.
Craig Smith scored twice and Shea Weber added a goal and an assist for the Predators, who last won seven straight from Nov. 12-25, 2009.
"You just stay focused and just worry about that next shot," Rinne said. "You don’t want to get caught with making a highlight save and then kind of stop playing, so that’s the last mistake I want to make."
Rinne hasn’t made many errors as the surprising Predators (39-12-6) seek their first division title in their 16-season existence. They lead St. Louis by six points atop the Central under first-year coach Peter Laviolette with Rinne consistently providing solid play in net.
"It (makes you) speechless how good he is," defenseman Anthony Bitetto said of Rinne. "He’s the best goalie in the world and it shows every night. It’s remarkable having him behind you."
The Predators hope defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Santorelli will be cleared to play. They were acquired Sunday in a trade that sent Olli Jokinen, prospect Brendan Leipsic and a first-round pick to Toronto, but immigration issues have prevented them from suiting up.
Franson, who played his first two seasons with Nashville from 2009-11, has six goals and 26 assists and is one point away from matching his career high set last season.
Santorelli, who played 32 games for the Predators from 2008-10, has 11 goals and 18 assists.
The Islanders (38-19-1) also could be looking to make a move prior to the March 2 trade deadline, but their current group is rolling despite forward Kyle Okposo being out since Jan. 19 with a detached retina.
Michael Grabner missed 40 of the first 58 games with a lower-body injury, but he scored in his return from a five-game absence to help New York beat Carolina 4-1 on Tuesday.
The Islanders, who lead Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers by four points atop the Metropolitan Division, have won five of six. They blew three two-goal leads in Monday’s 6-5 loss to the Rangers.
"I don’t think you want to get in a spiral, losing two, three, four in a row," Grabner said. "It’s nice to get back the two points, put that behind us and move on."
Jaroslav Halak allowed three goals in the third period Monday and had his five-start winning streak snapped. He was given the night off against the Hurricanes as Chad Johnson stopped 37 shots.
Halak is 3-0-1 with a 1.47 GAA in his last four starts against the Predators.
The Islanders dropped eight of the previous nine meetings with Nashville before winning the most recent one, 3-1 on Nov. 12, 2013.
John Tavares has scored in each of the teams’ past three matchups and his last three games overall, totaling four goals and three assists.