It is unusual for Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne to not be in the Vezina Trophy discussions at this point of the year.
The 2015-16 season has not been friendly to Rinne, who has a 16-12-6 record, a 2.43 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage in 34 games.
December was a rough month for Rinne and the Predators. While the team was 6-6-3 last month, Rinne went 5-6-2 with a 2.64 GAA and a .907 SV-%. Nashville dropped in the standings to the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
“It was very tough,” said Rinne. “It’s a team game, but you have to be honest and look at yourself in the mirror. For myself, it was a rough month. It seemed like I couldn’t get anything going, and there were ups and downs. It was frustrating. Even though you try your hardest, even though you have some experience already over the years. But it’s funny how it goes sometimes. You let your mind go, and you become frustrated. You let the results define who you are. It can be really frustrating, but at the end of the day — I know it sounds boring — you just have to take it one day at a time. You can’t look really too far ahead.”
Road games, especially, have been incredibly difficult for Rinne to find much success in. Prior to Saturday’s 2-1 overtime win against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C., Rinne was 0-6-2 in his previous eight starts in away games.
But guess what? Nine of 12 games in January are on the road.
“It’s going to be a really big month for us,” Rinne said. “And we just have to be ready for it, mentally ready for the road trip.”
Given the amount of away games slated for the Predators, it makes the home games that much more important. However, a 4-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets Tuesday, when Rinne allowed three goals on 14 shots, did not set the Preds on the right foot entering a four-game road trip.
“Any time you play at home, those are huge games,” Rinne said. “At this time of the year, it is coming to the halfway mark. There are a lot of games behind us, but there are also a lot of games ahead of us. Usually, when you look back on the season, this midpoint is when teams have stretches — either good ones or bad ones. You want to get in a good stretch and put some wins together. You really want to take care of those [home games], and then win some games on the road.”
Undoubtedly, Rinne is a world-class goaltender, but as it appears now, he will not be able to create wins himself. Luckily, he has arguably one of the best defense corps in the NHL, headed by Roman Josi and Shea Weber.
“It’s great,” Rinne said about his defense. “I totally understand how rare it is to have this kind of defense. It doesn’t happen too many times in your career. We are very fortunate to have the same kind of defense for the past couple of seasons. They’ve grown together. They know how they play, their partners play. It’s fun to watch when they play. At the same time, for me, the game doesn’t really change. I still have to focus on my job. It doesn’t really change [no matter] who you have in front of you. It makes it easier on the ice. The fact that our defense creates so much offense for us, it’s a huge thing for our team.”
Six of the next seven games for the Preds are against Central Division opponents, and it is very likely Rinne starts in all of them.
If Nashville’s scoring problems continue even after the acquisition of Ryan Johansen, they will need Rinne to return to form to win games.
Colin Fitts is a Nashville Predators staff writer and is a credentialed media member of the Chicago Wolves. From Nashville, Tennessee, Colin majors in journalism and public relations at Columbia College Chicago. Follow him on Twitter, @FittsTHW. Email: 22fitts [at] gmail [dot] com.