By Amanda DiPaolo
When the Nashville Predators visited San Jose on March 8th, Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan said “I hear there is consideration of Rinne for the Hart. I wouldn’t argue that.”
The Hart Trophy is awarded to the player who is considered to be the most valuable to his team.
In the New York Times“Morning Skate” on March 21, Christopher Botta wrote “Pekka Rinne deserves consideration to be the third man when the finalists are announced. The Nashville goaltender is as valuable to the Predators as any player — forward, defenseman or goalie — is to his team.” Steven Stamkos and Daniel Sedin are considered the favorites.
Predators Captain Shea Weber credits Rinne for Nashville’s strong playoff push down the stretch. “We know how good he is. He’s our MVP. Without him I don’t think we would be in this situation right now. He might not get the recognition around the League but we know how important he is to us.”
Head Coach Barry Trotz agrees. After the Predator beat the Boston Bruins in overtime on March 17th, Trotz said it was Rinne who kept Nashville in the game. “He was spectacular all game,” Trotz said, adding ” that’s why he is a Vezina and Hart candidate.”
It wasn’t just against Boston that Rinne kept Nashville in it. Shane O’Brien leads the Predators in short-handed ice time. “He’s been our best player all year, most consistent player all year,” O’Brien said, of the Kempele, Finland native, adding “we lean on him a little bit too much sometimes. He gives us a chance to win every night and we are lucky to have him.”
Another main piece to the Predators penalty kill, Nick Spaling, wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Rinne’s name on the list of Hart Trophy nominees. “If he won that, it would be well deserved. He’s proven himself to be one of the best goaltenders in the League and he’s been key to our success,” Spaling said.
Rinne’s numbers are undeniable. The 28 year old has a goals against average of 2.06, just .01 back of League leader Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins. His save percentage is .930, also second to Thomas.
As Botta pointed out, the difference between Thomas and Rinne is that the Bruins could still be successful without Thomas. Tuukka Rask is the Bruins backup goaltender, but was their number one just a year ago. For Nashville, the Predators rely heavily on Rinne to keep them in each and every game.
While Rinne’s statistics put him slightly behind Thomas on the season average, his numbers have been even more impressive since New Year’s Eve. Rinne has played in 34 of the last 38 games for Nashville, and has garnered 20 wins in that time which is tied for second in the NHL. What is even more impressive is that his goals against average drops to 1.88, while his save percentage increases to .937, tied with Thomas.
“He’s huge. Obviously, your best defenseman is your goalie,” center David Legwand said of Rinne’s worth to the team, adding “He’s been there the whole year. He’s probably been the top [goalie] all year in the League. He’s earning all the credit he gets right now. He’s seeing the puck like a beach ball right now, so it’s making it easy on him.”
Seeing the puck like a beach ball is a good thing for a goaltender on a team that doesn’t come by scoring goals easily. No team in playoff position has scored fewer times than the Predators, who have registered 193 tallies this season.
Nashville’s leading scorer, Patric Hornqvist (19), said the trio of Weber, Suter and Rinne keep Nashville competitive. “It’s probably 20 straight games for him now. He doesn’t look tired. He’s so focused. He’s one of the best goalies out there. It’s always nice to have him back there.”
Rinne is modest. “That sounds weird to hear that. It would be amazing but it is way too early and I rank so many players so high that it sounds almost too much, but obviously I like the sound of it. I don’t know what to say. There are so many great players. I don’t put myself up top,” Rinne answered when asked about the possibility.
There is no doubt that Rinne is a leading contender to be nominated for the Vezina Trophy. If he keeps playing lights out hockey, will he also be up for the Hart? His teammates would like to think so.
-Photo Credit: Getty Images
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