Rinne's return, level of play not enough to lift Predators' performance

Pekka Rinne couldn’t have played much better in his return from a hip infection yet things could not have gone worse for the Nashville Predators.

Rinne stopped 71 of 77 shots in three games last week. The Predators lost all three, the last of which was a 1-0 defeat to Columbus on Saturday despite a season-high 35 shots from the goalie.

That slide has cost them six points in the NHL’s Western Conference wild card race. Four points out of the second spot at the Olympic break, it now trails Dallas by 10 points with 18 games to play.

“I’ve been feeling good,” Rinne said. “Just playing games, it’s so much fun right now just being back. I just really enjoy every minute of it. Really appreciate to have the chance to be back playing. … Hopefully, I can improve all the time.”

The four straight regulation losses match the longest such streak of the season. The first was back in November and began five games after Rinne went on injured reserve with the infection.

The hope was that Rinne’s return would provide a spark to propel the Predators into the playoffs.

Instead, they scored a total of two goals in his first three games back, which makes it seem as if they picked off right where they left off when he was sidelined. His last start before the ailment was a 2-0 loss at Minnesota.

Nashville averages just 1.5 goals per game in Rinne’s 12 starts this season.

“There’s only one stat that counts when it comes down to it and that’s how many goals you score and how many you give up,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Right now we’re doing a good job not giving up a lot of goals, so that’s a positive. Also positive that Pekka Rinne is getting back to form.”

The Predators kick off a stretch of three road games in four days Monday at Ottawa (6:30 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee). Rinne is 1-3 all-time against the Senators.