Victory over Red Wings offers Predators a lesson in realistic expectations for ailing Rinne

The Detroit Red Wings taught the Nashville Predators a lot of lessons during the years those teams were Central Division rivals. Many of them were painful.

Nashville’s 6-4 victory Monday at Bridgestone Arena in the season’s only appearance by the Red Wings, now an Eastern Conference team, was joyous to be sure but it too was instructional.

What everyone ought to take away from that contest is that when – make that ‘if’ – Pekka Rinne returns this season, expectations for his play ought to be remain realistic.

It is not easy to settle in between the pipes of an NHL net and stop everything that comes your way when you haven’t done it in a while. Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard proved that point indisputably when he allowed five goals to the Predators in his first appearance since Dec. 10. He missed the last eight games with a knee injury.

“You never know, sometimes the first game [a goalie is] really good and maybe not so good the second game,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Of course, sometimes they are not so good the first game. But we are fortunate; some of the goals we scored were pretty nice goals. Howard made some good saves, and I thought he got better as the game went on.”

Howard is unquestionably one of the best goalies in the league, a winner of 35 games or more in all three of his full NHL seasons. Reports this week are that he will be included on the roster for the United States Olympic team when it’s announced Wednesday.

“It’s not like it was the first time he put on pads,” Nashville forward Craig Smith said. “I’m sure he’s been on the ice in practice and getting ready to go, but game time’s a bit different. He’s a good goaltender so he can react and come back with something like that and be just as good.”

He was far from his best on this night, though.

Nashville started the night averaging fewer goals than all but four teams yet scored early and often. Smith, Colin Wilson and Nick Spaling all found the back of the net with shots from a normally comfortable range with little or no traffic in front.

“To be honest with you, I felt like I was behind the play a lot and just didn’t get comfortable,” Howard said. “When I thought I was on the angles, I was off the angles. It’s just one of those things, but you try to use it to get yourself going. … Let’s be honest – whenever you score four goals you should win, so the guys definitely deserved better.”

Rinne has been out more than two months with a staph infection in his hip and there is no indication that he will be back in the nets anytime soon. He still needs the help of a couple canes to get around and his scheduled return to off-ice conditioning has been delayed.

Eventually the two-time Vezina Trophy finalist will play again and the expectation is that he immediately will make the Predators a better team.

Now everyone should be clear about the fact that it will take a little longer than that – just another bit of information doled out by Detroit.