Is there anybody in the National Hockey League playing better right now than Pekka Rinne?
After going winless in his first five starts, Rinne has now won six out of seven to pull his team into second place in the Central Division. The last three of those wins have come via shutout, making him the league leader for goose-eggs. If he picks up just two more over the course of the season he’ll have tied the mark of five he set in 73 games last season. His 1.61 GAA is third-best in the league, his .938 save percentage fourth. He’s the clear MVP on a team with nobody else remotely near the league lead in any statistical category, save Paul Gaustad and his unholy faceoff winning percentage.
To put Pekka Rinne’s excellence into perspective, consider that since January 28th he has played 21 periods of regulation hockey, two full overtime periods, and another 2:08 of overtime that ended before the shootout. In that span of just over 432 minutes he has faced 186 shots and allowed only six of them to cross the goal line, a .968 save percentage. Three of those goals came at even strength, all in a single game against the Chicago Blackhawks; the other three came one at a time on the power play in three consecutive games from January 31st to February 5th. As of right now Rinne has gone 135 minutes and 33 seconds without surrendering a goal of any sort.
Crucially, Pekka Rinne’s streak has come when Patric Hornqvist, the leading Nashville goal-scorer two of the last three seasons, is out recovering from a sprained knee. The team is 6-2-1 since that point and currently trails only the league-best Chicago Blackhawks in the Central. And all this despite having the league’s 30th-ranked offense!
Rinne’s performances aren’t coming in a vacuum. Nashville’s team defense has improved in front of him with almost every passing game, and its penalty kill is up to seventh in the league now. One has to assume that their goalie’s superhuman efforts in net are part of the reason for the improvement. When the team wasn’t playing well they talked about wanting to win for Pekka. He has bailed them out of plenty of tough spots as they’ve begun to get their feet under them. They’re now playing well enough to bail him out in a handful of key spots, too. That kind of synergy between goalie and defense is more than just valuable. It can steal games.
The Central Division is as competitive as ever, especially given Chicago’s early leap to the front of the pack. With Pekka Rinne at the top of his game, Patric Hornqvist expected to rejoin the team on the ice sometime in the seven to ten days, and the team’s defense and penalty kill becoming ever more reliable, the Nashville Predators are positioning themselves to hang tough with their closest rivals.