CAN HISTORY BE MADE?
Can Pekka Rinne become the all time single season leader in wins this year? The short answer is “it’s possible”. It’s something fun to talk about, but it’s not probable. The long answer is complicated and has an immense amount of variables, not the least of which is luck. But I’m an optimist, so let’s dive in to those variables and see what we come up with.
Rinne is having one hell of a year. Even after missing eight games due to injury, he is still atop the NHL in both wins (33) and GAA (1.99). Now, that’s all well and good, but there is a chance for history here: Martin Brodeur‘s single season wins record. The record for goaltender wins in a season is 48, set by Brodeur back in 2006-2007 with the New Jersey Devils. That year Brodeur played in 78 games. Even if Rinne played in every game from this point on, he still wouldn’t come close to 78 games, he’s only played 41 thus far. There are 26 games left in the regular season, including four back-to-back stretches. Remember that, because it’s going to become important.
He needs 15 wins to tie and 16 wins to break the record
So, Rinne has 27 games to make history. He needs 15 wins to tie and 16 to break the record . If he were to start all 26 games, he’d only have to win 62% of them to surpass Brodeur. Right now Rinne is winning 78% of his games. That’s better than three out of every four. He’s all but assured to break the record if he plays in every game from here on out. But as anyone with a passing interest in hockey knows, no goaltender starts every game (except apparently Brodeur, he played in 77 or more games four times in his career, and at least 70 twelve times).
We’ve all seen how Coach Laviolette likes to ride the hot hand as long as he can, and it’s definitely been paying off for the team. If that continues down the stretch, you can expect to see Rinne play in a large majority of the games. But those four back-to-backs really factor in to how many games he will start (see, I told you it was going to be important).
Even though Laviolette has shown a tendency to start Rinne (and even Carter Hutton while Rinne was out) in both games of a back to back, after Pekka’s injury and with the playoffs looming, he might come off of that a bit to give his workhorse goaltender a little more time to rest and recuperate. This is no small issue when it comes to chasing the great Brodeur. Should Hutton get those 4 starts instead of Pekka, that brings down the total number of possible games for Rinne to 22. If Rinne were to tie or beat Brodeur, he’d do it in about 13 fewer games, which would be even more remarkable.
Now we have around 22 games to work with, assuming Rinne starts all other games and only sits out one end of a back-to-back for the rest of the season. If Rinne keeps his current 78% win pace, he would win 18 of those games. However, the margin for error becomes much smaller. He would have to register a win in 74% of his games from here on out if he wants to beat the record, and 70% to tie it. That’s below his current pace, but it’s still a tall order for the tall Finn.
Just for fun, here’s the breakdown of win percentage needed to tie or beat Brodeur:
- 26 games- 57.6% to tie, 61.5% to surpass
- 25 games- 60% to tie, 64% to surpass
- 24 games- 62.5% to tie, 66.7% to surpass
- 23 games- 65.2% to tie, 69.5% to surpass
- 22 games- 68.1% to tie, 72.7% to surpass
- 21 games- 71.4% to tie, 76.1% to surpass
- 20 games- 75% to tie, 80% to surpass
- 19 games- 78.9% to tie, 84.2% to surpass
- 18 games- 83.3% to tie, 88.9% to surpass
- 17 games- 88.2% to tie, 94.1% to surpass
Anything after that, you get the picture. This is already a monumental task, but if Rinne plays in less than 20 games, I would say that he probably has little to no chance at passing Brodeur.
The schedule from here on out doesn’t get any easier. There are no more games against the Blackhawks or Blues, but there is still enough stiff competition in the coming month and a half to give Rinne and this Predators team a run for their money. Still in February are the Sharks, Islanders, Red Wings, and a resurgent Wild team that is in full-on desperation mode.
In March, the team has a three game swing in California with the Sharks again, the dreaded Ducks, and a sneaky Kings team. There’s also a three game Eastern Division Murders’ Row with the Canadians, Lightning, and Capitals all in a row. The Wild show up twice more after February and if they’re still in the hunt they will be dangerous.
The key for this to work is going to be the Predators winning the games that they are supposed to. From here on out, there are 15 games against teams the Predators really should beat and have Rinne in net for. That doesn’t mean the Preds will win all of those games, but for Rinne to have a chance at history, they will have to win almost all of those games and take a few from the really stiff competition like the Isles and Ducks.
The road Rinne has to travel is dark and full of terrors, but it’s not insurmountable. Even with a few bad games in between now and the end of the regular season, this Predators team has proven that it is able to bail out it’s star net-minder from time to time when the need arises.
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Oh, the luck. Every coach and fan’s worst nightmare or best friend. Puck luck, getting the bounces, puck ending up in a good spot. Nashville has experienced a bit of “puck luck” this year. They have a PDO of 1.013, which isn’t crazy high or necessarily unsustainable. But the guys who do the advanced stats for a living say that number should start to regress back to 1 at some point (PDO is Save % + Shooting % for the team). If that does begin to happen this season, it could mean that an extra goal here or there is starting to slip through Rinne’s legs.
It’s also quite possible they don’t regress at all. But if they do, does it necessarily mean the Predators will start losing? No, but it’s something to keep an eye on. The Predators have gotten a few fortuitous bounces along the way this year that have helped them win games. For Rinne to have any shot at the record, the Preds are going to, at the very least, not have too many bounces go against them.
THE REAL QUESTION: SHOULD LAVIOLETTE LET RINNE MAKE THE RUN?
The Predators are pretty much guaranteed a playoff spot according to Hockey-Reference.com. That could mean the team starts resting players the closer it gets to playoff time, which might affect the team, and Rinne’s ability to rack up all those wins he needs. This is a minor concern now, as it appears that the conference and division titles will come down to the wire; but a dip by the Blues and/or Ducks could change the whole dynamic of the situation.
Imagination time! Imagine that it’s April 1st. The Predators have 4 games left on the schedule and have an 8 point cushion in the Central and six points on the Ducks for the #1 seed in the playoffs. Rinne needs three wins to tie or break the record (it doesn’t matter which, use your imagination). Should Laviolette leave Rinne in as the starter for those four games to chase the history? He all but has the #1 seed in the conference locked up. There’s no need to push the envelope and get greedy, is there? Is it worth it to throw Rinne out there four more times hoping to break a record when you could be resting him for the playoffs?
Which is more important? The smart money is on resting him for the playoffs. Of course, you darn well know what Peks would say even if he’d never say it on camera. He wants to start every game, and I’m not so sure I disagree with that either.
Rinne thrives on big game situations and being relied upon. He seems to relish the big stage and plays on another level when he knows he has to. I’m probably in the minority on something like this, but I say leave him in. History is something special, and to have a Nashville Predator hold a record like this would be incredible for the franchise and the fan base. Maybe not as much as a Stanley Cup, but it would by far be the greatest achievement by a player from Nashville.
Rinne already had a nice three-week vacation in January. Letting him take a shot at history would make a statement that you trust him no matter what, and history shows that when you trust Pekka Rinne, he doesn’t let you down.