Preds goalies are both hot

LANCE HORNBY, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 3:52 PM ET

NASHVILLE -- The Maple Leafs won't have to pick their poison in goal for the Predators on Monday night.

The Nashville netminders, Pekka Rinne and Dan Ellis, alternate every game, a system working so well this year for coach Barry Trotz that his team has stayed fourth in the tough Western Conference and in the top half of NHL goaltending stats.

Rinne was scheduled to face the Leafs on Monday at the Sommet Center, even though Ellis pitched a 22-shot shutout in their last game in Calgary.

“Both have played extremely well, both have been No. 1’s for us,” Trotz said at the morning skate. “It’s a benefit because most teams only have one No. 1. You look at the schedule in March when you’re playing 17 or 18 games in 29 days and we’ll have two fresh goalies where some teams will have goalies on fumes.”

Leafs’ coach Ron Wilson can’t help but be envious of Trotz’s strong duo with Vesa Toskala and Jonas Gustavsson unable to get on a sustained roll for his team all season.

“It’s too bad no one really watches Nashville play,” Wilson said. “They have great goaltending and one of the best young defences in the league, They’re very tough to score on. If you do get an opportunity, their defence is very good clearing the puck. They’re a very underrated team.

“(Toskala and Gustavsson) have to battle for ice time and whoever plays well starts the next game. But it’s hard with so many back-to-back games and the tough stretches we’ve had.”

Gustavsson starts against Nashville, a difficult jumping-off point for Toronto’s four-game tour of the U.S. south, with the Preds winning seven of their last 10 games. Right winger Patric Hornqvist, nicknamed Horny, has been thorny for opposing goalies with 13 goals the past 16 games, including the Preds’ only strike against Calgary that capped a sweep of Western Canada.

“In our position we can’t afford to let too many games slip away,” Leaf winger Lee Stempniak said. “It’s good we’re playing (three) teams right ahead of us on the trip and can make up some ground. A few wins will be a huge help for our push.

The Leafs are 0-1-1 in their previous two trip to Nashville and are the only NHL team never to win here. Winger Wayne Primeau (knee) won’t play, but could be back by Tuesday’s game in Atlanta, followed shortly by defenceman Mike Komisarek (shoulder).

Nashville gets big men Jason Arnott and Jerred Smithson back up front tonight from injuries.


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