GLENDALE, Ariz. – Pekka Rinne celebrated his 29th birthday by signing the richest contract in Nashville’s history. He capped the day by blowing out the candles on the Phoenix Coyotes.
Putting all the early-in-the-day distractions behind him, Rinne stopped 35 shots for his third shutout of the season to lift the Predators to a 3-0 win over the Coyotes on Thursday night.
“He had a goalie hat trick,” Predators coach Barry Trotz said. “Birthday boy, obviously, shutout and US$49 million—I’d call that a goalie hat trick.”
Rinne received a big gift on his birthday, signing a seven-year, $49 million contract earlier Thursday, a deal that was a big boost for a franchise that had long been criticized for being tight with the purse strings.
After fulfilling his media obligations and taking a little nap, Rinne turned away everything the Coyotes threw at him to for his 23rd NHL shutout.
Jonathon Blum and Matt Halischuk had goals in the second period, and Patric Hornqvist scored for a fourth straight game, into an empty net, to help Rinne put the icing on what had already been a momentous day.
“I’m not going to say it’s just two points,” Rinne said. “It has a different meaning to me. Signing the contract, playing the same day and it’s my birthday. It’s a pretty special day.”
The Coyotes tried to ruin it by getting off to a strong start after beating Colorado 4-1 on Wednesday.
Despite plenty of good chances in the first period, Phoenix couldn’t solve Rinne early and had some bad luck late by hitting a couple of posts. The loss snapped the Coyotes’ points streak at five games (4-0-1).
“We had a couple chances there—if we could get a lead instead of chase, that helps your energy level,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said.
Nashville took a proactive approach for the future and signed Rinne to what was easily the largest contract in the history of a franchise that came into the league for the 1998-99 season.
For an ownership group that’s been criticized for not spending big money to keep or bring in players, it was a big step.
Rinne made it look like a good deal in his 12th straight start to open the season, which extended his team record.
The NHL leader in saves—307 entering the game—turned away several good chances in the first period, just getting his skate out to stop Mikkel Boedker on a wraparound attempt, then stuffing him on a breakaway with the Predators on a power play.
Rinne got a break in the second period when Boedker hit the post on a rebound, and nearly did the splits to stop a shot by Radim Vrbata on a power play early in the third.
He got some help from defenceman Kevin Klein after leaving the crease midway through the third and finished it off with a couple of tough saves down the stretch.
Rinne’s day gave the Predators a much-needed lift after a summer that included former player Wade Belak’s suicide, the death of three players with Nashville ties in a plane crash in Russia, and the constant questions about the ownership’s willingness to sign top players.
“It was like one thing after another here, like when’s this going to end,” Trotz said. “With Pek’s signing, a big weight left the room.”
Phoenix had gotten good goaltending during its points run, thanks to Mike Smith. He stopped 76 of 79 shots during the span and had 39 saves Wednesday.
With Smith getting the night off, the Coyotes turned to Jason LaBarbera, who hadn’t started since Oct. 18 against Chicago, a span of six games.
“Barbs” didn’t look the least bit rusty early, sprawling on his belly twice in the first 3 minutes and making a close-range save on Craig Smith during a power play midway through the period.
It didn’t last.
Blum broke through midway through the second period, sending a wrister from the blue line that made its way through traffic for his first goal of the season.
Halischuk made it 2-0 late in the period, one-timing a pass from Smith on a 2-on-1 break for his fourth goal. Hornqvist put the gameout of reach with just under a minute left.
“Barbs played unbelievable for us, but we have to find ways to generate power plays and get some opportunities on the power play,” Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. “I think we only had one or two, and that’s not good enough.”
NOTES: The Coyotes played the first of their 13 back-to-back sets this season. … Nashville C Mike Fisher returned after missing one game because of a head injury. LW Sergei Kostitsyn was back after sitting out two games due to an undisclosed lower body injury. … Phoenix C Martin Hanzal didn’t play because of a lower body injury sustained late against Colorado.