Not often does Carter Hutton get to start in net for the Nashville Predators.
When it does happen, it is usually because Pekka Rinne is injured or the team is in the midst of a back-to-back — and sometimes not even that.
Hutton has started in just seven of 45 games this season and currently posts a 4-2-1 record with a 2.55 goals against average, a .910 save percentage and one shutout, which is all you can ask for from a backup.
As long as Rinne stays healthy, the majority of the season’s workload will be given to the Finn. Rinne is Nashville’s goalie. Hutton knows it. The team knows it. Everyone knows it.
However, it does not mean Hutton will not work for more starts. His 29-save shutout performance to defeat the Minnesota Wild 3-0 Saturday, which snapped the Preds’ five-game losing streak, showed that.
“I just work hard all the time,” Hutton said Monday. “I come to the rink every day with a purpose, to get better. [I] get extra work whether that is with [strength and conditioning coach] David Good off the ice or [goalie coach] Ben Vanderklok on the ice.
“A shutout is great, but at the end of the day, it’s about winning games. We have to find ways to win games and get in the playoffs [to] make a splash. Any way I can help out, any way I can get two points is key. Whether I’m in the net or not, we’re all here together, and we have to win games.”
In 2013-14, Hutton’s first year with the Predators saw him playing more than expected due to Rinne missing 51 games with an E. coli infection. He registered a solid 20-11-4 record with a 2.62 GAA, a .910 SV-% and one shutout. Such success won over the hearts of upper management, and the team re-signed Hutton to a two-year, $1.45 million contract.
The following season, however, was a bumpy one for Hutton. He went 6-7-4 with a 2.61 GAA and a .902 SV-%. Coincidentally, Rinne only missed eight games because of a sprained knee.
Thus, it became evident that Hutton performed better when playing consistently.
“I felt pretty good last year for the most part,” Hutton said. “It was a tough year, the first year not really playing that often. The bulk of my games came when Peks was out, too. This year, I’m just controlling what I can and not worry about if I play. I can’t control that. I can just control coming in here with a good attitude. When I do get a chance, I will try to help the team win.”
Hutton’s 2014-15 campaign brought out a lot of critics. Some of his biggest critics are the ones sitting in the seats who have never played hockey before, so he does not get too worried about the insulting chatter.
“I’ve said it many times before, the powers are in management,” said Hutton. “The team has a lot of faith in me. I have a lot of faith in myself. [My faith] was never wavered. [Being a backup] is a tough role. It’s not the easiest thing. We’re creatures of habit. The more you play, the easier it is.”
Hutton becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. In a time when the league is filled with more skilled goalies than ever before, playing well in a contract year becomes that much more important.
As long as Hutton continues to be solid in net and win games, he will have nothing to worry about come the offseason.
“I try not to get too worried about that stuff. I don’t want to get too worried about numbers and things like that. My biggest goal is to just help the team win.
“Winning games cures everything.”
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.