Predators eager to build on their best start without Rinne
And they want a fast start coming off the All-Star break.
''It's very critical,'' forward James Neal said Monday. ''I think everyone's got the same mindset coming back from the break. We want to gain ground, and you want to make up as many points as you can. ... We've got to be ready here, and ... I think everyone just kind of recharged, really got their energy back and ready to go.''
Well, not everyone got to rest over the long All-Star weekend.
Coach Peter Laviolette and his assistants worked the game and got the win with Team Toews in Columbus along with defenseman Shea Weber, who won the hardest shot competition with a 108.5 mph blast, and rookie Filip Forsberg who scored the first goals by a Predator in an All-Star game.
At the All-Star break, the Predators lead the NHL with a .722 winning percentage. Anaheim has a league-best 68 points - three ahead of Nashville, which has two games in hand on the Ducks. Nashville (30-10-5) has gotten at least a point in 11 of the last 12 games going into the break and also lead the Central Division at 12-3-2, matching the wins they got in the division all last season.
Laviolette tried to help his Predators get back up to speed Monday by pushing them through practice and drills quickly.
''It gets harder and harder,'' Laviolette said. ''The more is at stake as the season winds on here. The teams always will be fighting for something now. The playoffs, once you get through January and reach the halfway point of February, it starts to really narrow in on the playoff picture and what's happening around the league. So it doesn't get any easier than that.''
Rinne skated Monday, but the league's top winning goalie's return from an injured knee remains unchanged. He hurt his knee Jan. 13 and still is expected to miss between three and five weeks. The Predators managed three points in three games without him before the break.
Carter Hutton at least got his first win in net for Nashville this season with a 4-3 victory over Washington on Jan. 16 and just missed a second in a 2-1 overtime loss at Montreal last week. Laviolette said Hutton has given the Predators a chance to win and thinks they will play hard in front of the goaltender.
The Predators also recalled Marek Mazanec from Milwaukee in the AHL on Monday. Laviolette declined to say whether Hutton or Mazanec will be in net Tuesday night against Colorado. Hutton is 1-4-3 this season.
''He definitely deserves better,'' center Mike Fisher said. ''He's played some good games where we couldn't score in front of him. We know he's a good goaltender. We'll focus on what we need to do as a team no matter who's back there.''
Nashville currently leads the league allowing only 2.24 goals per game and ninth scoring an average of 2.96 goals per game.
The Predators take a seven-game winning streak on home ice into Tuesday night's game, and another win will tie the franchise record set between Jan. 6 and Feb. 8, 2007. Then Nashville hits the road for three straight road games at St. Louis, Colorado and Pittsburgh as part of a tough stretch of four games in six nights.
Fisher said the Predators just have to keep focusing on themselves and trying to play better.
''We've managed to be consistent throughout,'' Fisher said. ''We got to keep that going.''