We know the time is nearing when Pekka Rinne will sail off into the sunset for the Nashville Predators. It’s coming soon, but it isn’t now.
The Nashville Predators find themselves in a precarious position currently as they’re riding two streaking goaltenders that any team would love to have. It’s like having two solid starting quarterbacks, but you can only start one. The Predators are dealing with this with Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros.
Peter Laviolette has to be smart about how he handles this and who he chooses to start. It’s no longer as simple as starting Saros on back ends of back-to-backs. Laviolette knows that Saros has been on fire all season, and is most likely the future for the franchise at the position.
However, Rinne is having another great season as well. He’s earned his right to lead quite possibly the best Predators team he’s ever been a part of. It’s hard to justify taking that away from him at this point in his career, unless he starts to slip.
Rinne is quietly having a career year
Maybe some diehard Rinne fans are noticing his stellar year, but I feel he’s flying under the radar. Maybe we’ve come to expect this of him so it’s no big deal. Either way, he’s become extremely reliable and more consistent. A 2.29 goals against average is nothing to scoff at in this age of the NHL, along with a .928 save percentage over 36 games. That would be just shy of a career high mark if the season ended today. Pretty remarkable that at age 35 he keeps ascending.
You have to ride the hot goaltender that’s responsible for getting you here in the first place. That guy is Rinne. Look at what he’s done in his last six start, from Adam Vingan:
Rinne still has a lot of games left this season to tie or even break his single-season shutout record of seven. He’s at five now, and I believe with the way he’s playing he’ll add a couple more. It should be a no-brainer that you ride Rinne all the way to the finish line, but Saros has made things complicated.
Saros can’t be overlooked
Then we have Saros, who’s numbers are almost identical to Rinne’s with the exception to a lot less games. Clearly the Nashville Predators have their goalie for the future. How quickly the future comes is the real question. It’s hard to sit a hot goaltender like Saros, just like it’s hard sitting the young and talented quarterback.
Saros’ numbers are absolutely ridiculous if you take out his first five starts of the season where he gave up three or more goals and went 1-4. At that point, I was even questioning if he was truly the long-term answer when Rinne finally hangs it up. Those thoughts are now a distant memory, and I no longer feel like the Predators have to score four-plus goals to win during a Saros start.
Like Rinne, Saros is making shutouts look very likely on a regular basis. He has four shutouts this season, all coming since the start of November. With all of this positive coming from both goaltenders, it really is a tough call on how to hand out the starts.
The solution for me is simple. Ride the hot goaltender, and as of now it’s Rinne. You obviously want to make sure Rinne doesn’t get overworked heading into the final stretch. Saros still deserves a start about every four games to keep Rinne fresh. However, we don’t have to feel uneasy about a gassed Rinne anymore. That used to be a concern due to not knowing what we had in Saros or any other backup goaltender.
Now that we know Saros is more than dependable to come in if needed, Rinne deserves the right to carry this thing out to the end. The Nashville Predators are perhaps a better all-around team than last year’s Stanley Cup team. They’re more complete from the top line to the fourth line, and Rinne needs to be leading that charge in net.
Unless he goes into a major funk, the Nashville Predators belong to Rinne and his quest for a Stanley Cup to complete what has been a great career that’s nearing the end. Teams with the right goaltender during a playoff run usually make it far. You need spectacular goalie play in the playoffs, and Rinne is still option No.1.