It has been a long road over the past year for the 31-year-old Finnish goaltender and former Vezina trophy candidate Pekka Rinne after he sustained a hip infection at the beginning of last season. However, its fair to say that in his first four games, he’s looked lights out and seems to have left the remnants of his injury behind him.
Back-up Carter Hutton started the last game against the Blackhawks as it was their second game in as many nights. However, the night before against the Winnipeg Jets, Rinne was flawless as he made a 31 save shutout look easy.
If Rinne can keep up this level of play then this looks to be the start of possibly the best season in his career.
Possibility of Injury
Unfortunately it’s always going be in the back of our heads that this was a goaltender that missed more than three-quarters of the season last year with that aforementioned hip infection. Fortunately, this had been the only time in Rinne’s seven-year career that’s he’s suffered an injury of that length.
Rinne has been known as a workhorse since he became the Preds starting goalie back in the 08-09 season. Excluding the lockout-shortened season and last season because he only started 24 games; before that, Rinne started an average 62 games for Nashville, including a 73 start year where he was nominated for the Vezina Trophy.
Unless Rinne suffers another freak injury (knock on wood) then he’s poised to hit at least 65 games again for the Preds this season.
This isn’t a knock on Carter Hutton as he provided a very good game against the Blackhawks making 35 saves on 37 shots while giving up the game-winner in OT on a short-handed breakaway from Jonathan Toews. However he realizes that he’s only going to get an opportunity to start once in a while because of how good Rinne’s been thus-far.
How Good Has Rinne Been?
For those pure statistic lovers out there then you might wanna pay attention to this; through his first four starts, Rinne has compiled a .948 SV%, a minuscule 1.22 GAA, and one shutout. He is undefeated in regulation and only has the blemish of the one extra-time loss because of the shootout.
Here’s a quick look at one of Rinne’s best saves from his 31 save shutout by robbing Mark Scheifele.
To put this in perspective, Rinne ranks 4th in SV% amongst starting goalies (who I believe are actually starters on their team) with only Darcy Kuemper, Jonathan Quick, and Fredrick Andersen in front of him, and he’s 2nd in GAA with once again Darcy Kuemper leading the pack.
What’s different though is the confidence Rinne is showing is paramount to the season he had back when he was nominated for the Vezina. Last season, even before the injury it simply looked far too much like Rinne was fighting the puck, pucks were slipping through him, and he was missing his reads. Now he looks completely in the zone, he’s not letting any easy ones by him and it looks like he’s getting in the heads of the opposition.
Can He Sustain It?
Even as good as Rinne’s looked through his first four appearances, there’s no 100% guarantee that he’s going to keep up his level of play.
Now just because Rinne got off to an excellent start doesn’t mean that he might cool off over his next five-six starts. A goalie is just one of those positions where they can be on their game for a stretch of time for a while and then lose it for the same stretch.
A prime example of this would be what Carey Price is going through now in Montreal. Even though Carey Price is getting W’s, its apparent that his play hasn’t been up to snuff. He is currently rolling with a .890 SV% and 3.38 GAA average which is far below what he’s posted in his past couple seasons. However, there’s no panic going on in Montreal because they know that Price is the type of goalie that’s going to turn it around and be rock-solid throughout the season.
That’s the kind of play Nashville needs out of Rinne. If anyone thinks Rinne is going to sustain a .948 SV% for the remainder of the season then they clearly need to take a second look at things. Now that doesn’t mean at all that Rinne is going to drop to those Price-like numbers. However with all the good that’s happened in the Music City in the past couple days with the All-Star Game specifically, Nashville is at an all-time high. Let’s all remember though that were only five games in I think it’s fair to keep your expectations tempered for the time-being.
It also should be mentioned that in the four starts, Rinne has faced Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Dallas which is easily the best team of that group. I wanna see how Rinne does against some of the better teams in the NHL before I jump on the Vezina hype train myself.
Regardless, if Rinne can keep at least close to this form for a good portion of the season, than good things are on the way for the Music City.
Corey Spina lives in Wayne, New Jersey. He is a senior at Centenary College, and is majoring in Communications/Journalism. Corey is in his second season covering the New Jersey Devils for The Hockey Writers, he completed a sports journalism internship with TAPinto, and he is the Host/Producer of the Sports Buzz on WNTI.org.