The Colorado Avalanche have a rising star on their hands, both literally and metaphorically, in their backup goaltender. Meanwhile, the limited NHL action on Monday night saw one goaltending evisceration and another debut with a new team.
Rinne vs. Draisaitl
Every brilliant, headline-making performance by an NHL forward has a poor, unfortunate goaltender on the other side. In this case, the brilliant superstar forward was Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers, whereas the beleaguered netminder was Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators. Draisaitl’s phenomenal five-point, four-goal night — including his 40th goal of the season — came at the Finnish goalie’s expense, and might be the low point in an incredibly poor season.
Rinne allowed four additional goals, surrendering a total of eight on 31 shots, giving him a .742 save percentage (SV%) on the night. He did that in just 49:55, after which he was pulled, giving way to Juuse Saros, who made all four saves in mop-up duty.
It simply hasn’t been a good season for Rinne. The Kempele, Finland native and franchise legend is 18-14-4 on the season, but his numbers are worse than his record. He carries an .895 SV% and a 3.17 goals-against average on the season, the poor numbers that helped lead to Peter Laviolette’s firing as head coach. While Nashville locals calling it the end of his career may be premature, the numbers are certainly a stark departure from his usual stalwart performance and at 37, age is the primary suspect.
Draisaitl spoke to the media following the game, and explained what he thought went right:
Those nights don’t happen all the time. Sometimes, just pucks bounce your way a little bit and you capitalize on them… couple bounces, Connor [McDavid] got us going there with a big goal, so, big win for us.Draisaitl’s comments afer the game
Questions will be asked about why new Predators head coach John Hynes left Rinne in net as long as he did, but all the Oilers’ final five goals came within six minutes of each other in the third period. It may have happened too quickly for him to react. Still, it’s an unfortunate treatment for a goaltending legend. The Predators will look to rebound on Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild, but it will likely be Saros who gets the start.
It’s been a whirlwind month for Avalanche backup goaltender Pavel Francouz. Since Philipp Grubauer went down to injury in the closing minutes of the Stadium Series game against the Los Angeles Kings early last month, he’s been the entire show in the Mile High City. In fact, Francouz’s meteoric rise is reminiscent of Jordan Binnington’s climb from obscurity to Stanley Cup Glory last season.
After a phenomenal week that earned him first star of the week honors from the NHL last week, he earned third-star honors this week. His 3-0-0 record, 2.00 GAA, and .946 SV% while building a six-game winning streak still have him as the hottest goalie in the league.
Francouz’s performance is raising serious questions about what head coach Jared Bednar will do when Grubauer returns. As the Avalanche push towards the playoffs, how can they turn away from their red-hot netminder as their starter (or former starter) attempts to shake off the rust? Fortunately for our readers, those are Bednar’s decisions to make. In the meantime, it seems like Francouz’s backup might be in peak form, too.
Hutchinson Debuts in Detroit on Birthday
The Avalanche were expected to shop for goaltenders at the deadline. But with Francouz performing so well, general manager Joe Sakic made a depth move, returning defenseman Calle Rosen to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for struggling backup Michael Hutchinson. The Maple Leafs had moved on to Jack Campbell, and Colorado was a logical temporary home for Hutchinson as he sought to recover from a turbulent season in net.
By Monday, the new Avalanche goalie hadn’t played an NHL game in almost a month, last hitting the ice on Feb. 5 against the New York Rangers. But Bednar knew that Monday’s game against the feckless, last-place Detroit Red Wings offered his best chance to get Hutchinson action and give Francouz a rest. Oh, and it was the goalie’s birthday, too!
Playing in an undecorated mask, Hutchinson made the most of his debut. The Avalanche offense didn’t do much, but the Red Wings, perhaps unsurprisingly, did even less. Hutchinson allowed only one goal on 18 shots and secured the birthday victory for his team. Happy birthday to Michael, and also to Henrik Lundqvist, who turned 38 on Monday.
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Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.