Nashville Predators

Column: When Is It Time to Panic About Pekka Rinne?

Towards the latter part of last season and during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Pekka Rinne’s struggles were noticeable. Over the course of his final seven starts in the 2014-15 regular season along with his six playoff appearances, his save percentage stood at 0.896 while allowing three or more goals in eight of those 13 games.

That same downward trend has continued throughout this season.

Rinne’s 0.902 save percentage is the third worst in the NHL among all goaltenders to play at least 1,000 minutes this season. He has also allowed 95 goals in his 37 games played; second most among the same set of netminders. When it comes to making the impactful saves, those of the high-danger variety, Rinne has the worst save percentage (0.771) among all goaltenders with at least 23 games played.

In his most recent start, an overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets, Rinne allowed five goals on 24 shots for a save percentage of 0.792. Over the course of his last 18 starts, Rinne has posted a sub 0.900 save percentage in 12 of those appearances while going 6-9-3.

As to what is causing Rinne’s slump this season, he offered his thoughts to  Adam Vingan of The Tennessean, saying “Obviously it would be probably easier to fix, too, if it were based on one thing. Obviously, overall play is one thing, consistency is one thing. But at the same time, it goes also hand in hand with the team play. As a team and for me personally, haven’t been able to kind of find that really high level of play consistently and I think that’s been missing.”

With Rinne’s recent struggles, Nashville Predators’ head coach Peter Laviolette turned to Carter Hutton for the rare start in a non back-to-back situation. This past Saturday, Hutton stood on his head, shutting out the Minnesota Wild with 29 saves ultimately ending Nashville’s five game losing streak. Hutton is now 4-2-1 on the year with a save percentage of 0.910.

Even though Hutton is playing on a more consistent level this season and despite Rinne’s overall record of 16-14-7, there has been growing anxiety in regards to Rinne being able to carry this team as he has in the past.

But it’s not quite time to panic about Rinne and what the future may hold for the nets in Nashville.

Time is undefeated in this game called life, and it has begun to catch up to Rinne. The three-time Vezina Trophy finalist is now 33-years-old and it has become clearer throughout this season that he cannot and should not be relied upon in the same sense he has in years past.

Last season, Rinne made 64 appearances for the second time in his career and down the stretch the wheels began to fall off. This year, Rinne has already made 37 starts and is on pace to hit 74 starts, which would set a new career high. While there is little to no chance he reaches that 74 game mark, it’s likely he finishes with at least 60 starts. That may not be in Nashville’s best interest.

With Hutton showing consistent play and securing his team wins more often than not this season, he should be handed extra starts. Nashville does not have the luxury, time, nor the career numbers attached to Hutton to use a more tandem game plan with Hutton and Rinne, especially while the team is desperately battling for a playoff spot. However if the inconsistency from Rinne continues, opportunities for Hutton should be more frequent.

This isn’t a slight against Rinne; it’s a simple observation that he cannot handle the same workload he once did. Perhaps it’s too early for speculation, but wouldn’t a fresher Rinne headed into the playoffs be more promising than one with 60+ regular season games played?

2015 Stanley Cup Champion netminder Corey Crawford would likely say yes – he made just 57 regular season starts prior to the Chicago Blackhawks Cup run.

While Rinne’s numbers are far from good this season, let’s not forget that scoring helps win games as well. Nashville has struggled in that area mightily all season ranking 17th in the NHL in goals for per contest. The Predators have scored two or fewer goals in 14 of their last 28 games.

The ability to score at will has become a bit easier since the team’s acquisition of Ryan Johansen. The fact remains, though, if the team in front of the net can’t score more than two goals a night the situation certainly does not become easier for your No. 1 goaltender.

Rinne has also shown signs that he is still an above average puck stopper this season. In his first nine starts he posted a save percentage of 0.925, going 6-1-2. He has also recorded 30 or more saves six times this season to go along with two shutouts.

While his elite status seems to be dwindling, don’t start panicking about Rinne and the future. Instead, become open to the idea that he is getting older and his workload likely will have to decrease.

So when is it time to panic about Rinne? That time could come as early as next season. The 6’5” Finn carries a $7 million cap hit through the 2018-19 season when he will be 36-years-old. With his numbers already showing troubling signs, that contract could be one of the worst in the league over the next few years.

The ideal situation for both management and the fans is having Rinne still be a slightly above average netminder (obviously) and to have Juuse Saros take over as the No. 2 goaltender in Nashville in the very near future.

In his first North American season, the 20-year-old Finn has gone 15-5-0 and recorded a save percentage of 0.916 with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL. He also made his NHL debut this season where he performed admirably stopping 20 saves despite a 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres in which two of their three goals came with the man advantage.

If Saros can continue his already stellar play at the AHL level, re-signing Hutton after he becomes an unrestricted free agent this off-season doesn’t look like a choice move. Saros can sit behind Rinne where he can be molded into a true No.1 NHL goaltender, slowly making the transition to having a true tandem in Nashville.

 

Stats and win-loss records current through 1/17/16. Stats via War on Ice.

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