Coming off of a superstar playoff run earlier this year, Nashville Predators’ 35 year old goalie Pekka Rinne seems to have caught his second wind.
Pekka Rinne was shaky last year during the regular season. That is a fact. The Finnish goalie was 34 years old, and seemed to be reaching the end of his playing days. He had been the face of the franchise for the better part of the previous decade.
Fans hated to see it. On many nights in the past, he flashed plays of freakish athleticism that left fans and players alike, in awe. That’s what made it hardest to see him aging. Fans knew what he was capable of.
2011-2012 was the year that he really made his name known. He had had two stellar seasons prior to that year, however 2011-2012 made Pekka Rinne a household name. It also led to the massive 7-year, $49 million deal that he signed.
That year, Rinne played a league-high 73 games, won a league-best 43, made a league-best 1,987 saves, and had the 7th-highest save percentage with a .923.
What Came Next
What followed that historic and amazing season, was a slow downward spiral of injury, inconsistency, and question. Following that 73 game season, Rinne didn’t play another full season until 2014-2015. Many started to wonder if Rinne’s big year, was the beginning of the end.
The numbers were solid, but not amazing. The wins were there, but many saw it as simply a product of the supporting cast around him. Rinne showed signs of struggle, with streaks of bad games, and mental questions. For a while, Rinne’s worst enemy was his own mind.
Rinne bounced back with a solid 2014-2015 campaign, where he won 41 out of 63 starts, and posted his second best GAA and save percentage of his career. Ever since that year, Rinne has been up and down, but still maintaining a presence as the go-to goalie, and face of the growing franchise.
Historically, the playoffs have been shaky for Rinne. Performing on the biggest stage seemed to get to him, as he had moments that made fans wonder who they were seeing in net. His team always hit a brick wall in the Western Conference, and never was the best in the field. For that reason, you can’t put too much blame on Rinne for those years.
Before last season, Rinne had won 22 of 48 playoff starts, and boasted a 2.54 GAA and .912 save percentage. After falling short six of the previous eight years in the playoffs, Pekka Rinne decided that he had had enough of mediocrity.
Rinne showed out on a nightly basis last postseason, en route to a playoff run for the ages. The Predators surprised fans and the hockey world alike, as the 8 seed from Nashville stormed onto the scene. They started with a 4 game sweep of the one seed Chicago Blackhawks. Rinne was a brick wall that series. Saves like this showed the hockey world that the old Pekka was back.
Then came a 6 game series win over St. Louis. Rinne was as good as the series before. Rinne stood on his head, and barely gave the Blues enough room to salvage two wins, in a series that Nashville dominated.
On to the next one. The Anaheim Ducks. New series, same Rinne.Like a ninja, diving around the crease, making you reconsider what a hockey goalie can and cannot do in net.
Although they came up two wins short of the Stanley Cup trophy, the Nashville Predators truly won the playoffs. They established themselves as a legitimate franchise and a legitimate hockey town. They grabbed the attention of every hockey fan in the world, and made it known that they were there to stay.
The Finals weren’t as strong for Rinne, as he lost a few big games, however, I’d like to chalk that up to a lack of Cup experience, and nerves. The Pittsburgh Penguins have won the last two Cups, so they know the stage as well as anyone in the game right now.
The Predators had never even made it past the conference semifinals until this past season, so making the Western Conference Final and Stanley Cup simply proved to be too much. The nerves were obvious, and the experience played into the favor of the Penguins.
Back to Rinne.
Although he had some moments of mental relapse, and flashes of a breakdown, Rinne came out the other side, stronger.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs was his fountain of youth. He made phenomenally youthful saves, and flashed the brilliance that he once brought on a nightly basis. He finished the playoffs with a 1.96 GAA and a .930 save percentage.
The Lasting Effects
Thanks to his playoff success from last season, Pekka looks like his younger self again. So far this season he is off to a fantastic start. He’s won 7 of 10 starts, and currently sits 4th in the NHL with a 2.08 GAA and 4th with a .934 save percentage.
The Stanley Cup did a great thing for Rinne, as he was able to regain his superstar confidence, get rid of the playoff nerves that had plagued him for years, and show the world that he can still guard the net as well as any other NHL goalie.
The success from this spring is carrying over nicely for Rinne and the Predators. So far this season, when Rinne is in net, the Predators have a great shot at winning, no matter who is or isn’t playing,. He is exuding the most confidence that we’ve seen in years. He’s making those freakish saves, and reminding everyone why he can still guard the pipes at 35 years old.
He currently has two more years left on his 7-year $49 million deal that he signed following his monstrous 2011-2012 year. After that deal runs out, who knows what’ll happen to #35.
He’ll be 36 years old, which is ancient for an NHL goalie. It’s hard to think that Rinne could be done soon, as he’s been the cornerstone of a growing franchise for almost 10 years now.
For now, let’s be thankful for what we have in net. It’s easy to take Rinne for granted, as we’ve seen him in Predator gold since 2005. When you see someone do their thing so well, for so long, you just grow accustomed to it, and think that that’s just the way it’s done. Count your blessing Predator fans, because unfortunately #35 won’t be around forever.