Predators & Pekka Blank the Maple Leafs

TORONTO — Pekka Rinne made 18 saves for his third shutout of the season and the 54th of his career as the Nashville Predators blanked the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-0 on Monday.

Kevin Fiala, with a goal and an assist, Mattias Ekholm, P.K. Subban and Colton Sissons scored for Nashville (26-15-3).

Michael Hutchinson stopped 28 shots for Toronto (27-13-2), which hit three posts and also had a goal called back for offside.

The Leafs were coming off one of their most complete performances of the season in Saturday’s 5-0 shutout of the Vancouver Canucks, but have now lost three of their last four after a five-game winning streak.

Monday’s tilt was the third in four nights for the Predators, who opened their season-long six-game road trip with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Friday — a performance that head coach Peter Laviolette described as “awful” — before Saturday’s 4-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.

Rinne is now tied with Marc-Andre Fleury, Bernie Parent and Ed Giacomin for 21st on the all-time shutout list.

Toronto Maple Leafs Connor Brown Nashville Predators Pekka Rinne
Toronto Maple Leafs Connor Brown is stopped by Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

After a scoreless opening 20 minutes, the Predators went ahead at 4:08 of the second period when Ekholm’s shot from the point through traffic beat Hutchinson, who made a third consecutive start with No. 1 goalie Frederik Andersen and backup Garret Sparks out injured, past the blocker for his fifth of the season.

Often a forgotten man on a Nashville blue line that includes Subban, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis, Ekholm now has 29 points in 43 games and is well on his way to smashing the career-high 35 he registered in 2015-16.

Toronto appeared to tie the game 43 seconds later when Auston Matthews connected on a no-look pass from Andreas Johnsson. But the goal was called back after the Predators correctly challenged that William Nylander was just ahead of the play as the Leafs entered the offensive zone 18 seconds before the puck entered the Nashville goal.

After Rinne stopped Johnsson on the doorstep, Subban made it 2-0 with his fourth at 13:11. The Predators won an offensive zone faceoff before the Nashville defenceman, who was playing his seventh game back after missing 19 with an upper-body injury, ripped a one-timer that deflected off Nylander’s stick at the point and sailed past Hutchinson.

Subban, a Toronto native whose parents were on hand at Scotiabank Arena, dropped to one knee and pumped his fist in celebration at centre ice before being congratulated by teammates.

Rinne was there again to rob Mitch Marner late in the period as Toronto mustered just 14 shots through 40 minutes.

Nashville, which came in having won three of its last four on the heels of a six-game skid, got a power play early in the third, but the best chance came on Toronto centre Frederik Gauthier’s partial breakaway that saw him fire over the Predators’ goal.

Toronto got its third opportunity with the man advantage later in the period, but Matthews found iron for the second time with Rinne out of position as the Leafs and their grew increasingly frustrated.

Hutchinson kept his team in it with a glove save on Viktor Arvidsson with six minute left in regulation, but couldn’t control a rebound that Sissons buried for his eighth with 2:37 left in regulation to seal it.

Fiala added his eighth with 37.3 seconds left.

Matthews blasted a shot off the post behind Rinne that stayed out for the game’s first real chance before Filip Forsberg, who returned to the Nashville lineup after missing 17 games with a hand injury, forced a good stop out of Hutchinson at the other end.

Nashville Predators Filip Forsberg
Nashville Predators Filip Forsberg (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

With just two goals over his last nine games coming into Monday, Kasperi Kapanen found iron again off a nice feed from Connor Brown on an odd-man rush later in the period, while Matthews couldn’t quite find the range on a rebound effort where he tried to draw the puck between his skates in front of Rinne.

Notes: Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said before the game he doesn’t know when Andersen (groin) or Sparks (concussion) will return to action. Andersen has practised with teammates twice in recent days. … Despite his prolonged absence, Forsberg’s 14 goals still sat tied with Craig Smith for Nashville’s team lead heading into Monday. … Toronto visits New Jersey on Thursday before hosting Boston on Monday. Nashville visits Chicago on Wednesday and Columbus on Thursday.


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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press