On the same day Nashville Predators head coach Barry Trotz announced goaltender Pekka Rinne would likely start sometime in the team’s upcoming home stand, the netminder took the next to last step in his recovery from an infection in his hip.
Rinne was officially sent on a conditioning assignment to Nashville’s AHL affiliate the Milwaukee Admirals.
“So far I feel really comfortable,” Rinne told the Associated Press. “I’m happy how things have gone in practice and how things have gone so far. I think I’m actually a little bit surprised it’s been going so well. But like I said, it’s still a process but for sure I feel like I’m really close to game shape and now it’s just a final couple of games before I jump on the ice with the Nashville team.”
The Predators goaltender hasn’t played in an NHL game since October, so although Rinne has been active in the club’s practices the last week and a half, there’s still a need to let him see some game action before tossing him back into the fray at the game’s top level.
“He’s at a point where we’ve got to find out where he is game-wise and also body and mind,” said Trotz.
Rinne should play in the Admirals home game on Friday night against the Iowa Wild (also featuring former Predators defenseman Jon Blum) and then he’ll be re-evaluated afterward.
“Day-to-day,” Trotz told Cellblock 303. “That’s how we’re going to play it.”
A favorable report from Rinne and the medical staff after Friday’s game would likely set Rinne up for one more AHL start on Sunday night before returning to Nashville.
If Rinne does indeed return from his conditioning assignment after the weekend, his first NHL start in nearly four months would either be Tuesday versus the Pittsburgh Penguins or Thursday against the St. Louis Blues.
“It’s not about Pekka coming back and being a savior,” Trotz said. “I think it’s Pekka coming back and adding to our mix. And if he can get his game to the level close to what he’s capable of, we’re a better hockey team plain and simple. To me, it’s about Pekka for hopefully the next five or six years. He’s a difference maker.”