The Nashville Predators will have to see if they can stay near the top of the NHL standings without the league's best goaltender for the next month or so.
The Predators announced Thursday after practice that Pekka Rinne will miss three to five weeks with a sprained knee, an updated diagnosis after the 32-year-old Finn met with a doctor. The team announced earlier Thursday Rinne would miss at least the next three games and then the All-Star weekend.
"It's a setback, but we'll get over it as a team," coach Peter Laviolette said. "He'll get over it as a person, and he'll jump back in there."
Rinne now is expected to miss a minimum of 10 games and possibly up to 18 if out the full five weeks with the Predators currently sitting atop the Central Division. They also topped the NHL standings (29-9-4) in winning points percentage before Thursday nights' games, though tied with Anaheim with 62 points.
"We just need to keep doing the same things we're doing," captain Shea Weber said. "I think we're playing good hockey. We've scored enough goals and keeping the goals-against down, so that's obviously winning hockey."
Rinne was hurt on Tuesday when Vancouver forward Chris Higgins became entangled with Nashville defenceman Anton Volchenkov in the third period. They then collided with Rinne, with their momentum carrying him into the end boards where his skates appeared to make first contact.
The goalie leads the NHL with 29 wins — five more than Anaheim's Frederik Andersen. Rinne also ranks second in the league with a 1.96 goals against average and a .931 save percentage, a season that earned Rinne his first All-Star appearance.
Backup Carter Hutton has played in only six games this season and is 0-3-2. Hutton went 20-11-4 last season when Rinne missed 51 games because of an infection in his hip.
"I expect Carter to come in here and play well for us," Laviolette said. "I expect our guys to go out tomorrow night on the ice and play an aggressive game. But we got to go out and do that. Everybody's got to go out and do their job."
The Predators signed Hutton to a two-year deal in the summer of 2013 to back up Rinne. With few back-to-backs to rest Rinne, Hutton has been getting most of his work in practice.
"Obviously it hurts losing Peks, but at the same time I think everyone in this room is confident in me, and I'm confident in myself to get in there," Hutton said.
Nashville also recalled Marek Mazanec (MAIR-ehk muh-ZAN-ehk) from the team's AHL affiliate in Milwaukee. Mazanec was their sixth-round draft pick in 2012, and he also helped fill in for Rinne last season. He played in 25 games and was the NHL rookie for November 2013 with a 5-4-1 record. He practiced with Nashville on Thursday.
The Predators learned of Rinne's updated diagnosis after practice.
"Anytime you lose your best player it's tough," forward Mike Fisher said. "But I guess he'll get a little break over the All-Star break to heal, so hopefully it won't be as long as they're saying. But I know he's going to work hard. He's been through the injury deal ..., and he'll be working hard to get back and as a team we're going to have to step it up and be better."
Nashville currently is without defenceman Ryan Ellis and forward Eric Nystrom due to injuries. Forward James Neal just returned from injured reserve himself Tuesday night.
The Predators already were facing an emotional game Friday night against the Washington Capitals and coach Barry Trotz, the only coach this former expansion franchise had until Nashville decided not to bring him back last April after missing the playoffs two straight seasons.