The Nashville Predators were the most surprising team in the NHL this season and they wouldn’t have been without Pekka Rinne. The 32-year-old netminder got off to an exceptional start, but from February on his play dipped and the story hasn’t changed through the Predators’ first three playoff games.
Through Nashville’s first 50 games of the season, Rinne held a record of 29-6-2 including two shut outs and a save percentage of .929. Jump to February and his record, save percentage and numbers change, and not for the better. His save percentage of nearly .930 was remarkable, so there really was nowhere to go but down from a statistical standpoint.
Before we can get to those numbers, it is worth noting that Rinne suffered a knee injury on January 13 against the Vancouver Canucks. He missed a total of eight games with the lower-body injury, returning for his first start on February 5 against the Anaheim Ducks.
From that date with the Ducks until the final regular season game on April 11, Rinne posted a record of 12-11-5 and allowed three or more goals in 15 of those games with a save percentage .908. He went from elite status among NHL puck stoppers to a ‘run of the mill’ netminder, statistically speaking, over the course of 26 games.
Rinne ended the regular season with a record of 41-17-6, allowing 2.18 goals per contest and stopped 92.3% of the shots he faced on the year. His .923 save percentage is the second-best season he’s had in that category, his best being a .930 year in 2010-11 in the same amount of games played (64).
With Nashville’s play slipping before the postseason, there was a sense of unease surrounding the Finnish netminder. The team has stepped up their play lately, scoring 11 times in the first three games of the playoffs, but Rinne’s play has been lackluster.
In Game 1 Rinne stopped 38 of the 42 shots he faced for a save percentage of .905 before Duncan Keith won the game for the ‘Hawks in the second ovetime period.
In Game 2 Rinne faced 26 shots and stopped 24 of those as he and the Predators routed the Blackhawks 6-2. Nashville completely dominated the ice from the second period onward. He ended the night with a .923 save percentage.
Sunday afternoon the Preds visited Chicago for the first time in the series and Rinne struggled. He allowed four goals on 30 shots with three of those goals coming in the middle frame. That was good enough for a save percentage of .867. The turning point of the game came 3:38 into the second period when Brandon Saad was able to convert on a partial breakaway.
So, what’s the problem?
Rinne played in 64 games and would’ve possibly reached the 70-game mark if it wasn’t for his injury in mid-January. Those 64 games played puts him at the seventh most played in the NHL. He could have been overworked in the regular season and hasn’t caught his breath despite the team having a light load to end the year.
Some sources close to the team have another hunch, perhaps:
— Papa Stud (@stanlaws) April 19, 2015
— Kristopher Martel (@kmartel_sports) April 19, 2015
Rinne could also be battling a nagging injury. This is a bit of a conspiracy theory but then again, it’s playoff hockey. Rinne is a workhorse and is the most important player for the Predators. He’s not going to miss a chance at a Stanley Cup run if his knee is sore. He missed three-fourths of last year’s season with a hip infection. There’s always a chance his hip could be effecting him as well.