The Nashville Predators had their best regular season ever. Their postseason was disappointing. You can credit Pekka Rinne for the former & blame him for the latter.
Public opinion is a fickle mistress, even if you’re the greatest player in the history of the Nashville Predators. No Predators fan would have dared say anything negative about Pekka Rinne a couple of months ago. He’s one of three finalists for the Vezina Trophy awarded to the best regular season goalie. He reached a milestone by going over three hundred wins for his career. He was near the top of the leaderboard in every major statistic.
Then the postseason happened. Rinne received a tremendous amount of criticism & was blamed by many fans for the Predators’ dismissal at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets. His play was ugly, especially at Bridgestone Arena where he was pulled from multiple games. To his credit, he hasn’t skirted responsibility. He’s taken his share of the blame for Nashville going home sooner than expected.
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Pekka Rinne gets all the credit when things go well. He gets all the blame when things go poorly. The truth is somewhere in the middle.
Good Times in the Regular Season
You might recall that I did a monthly awards column. Pekka Rinne was always in the conversation for Most Valuable Predator. He was awesome every single month of the season. The only time his save percentage dipped below 92 was in November, and that was a mere .915. He led the league with eight shutouts. His 2.31 GAA was the best among his fellow Vezina Trophy candidates, as was his .927 save percentage.
How many times did people, including the Nashville Predators’ Twitter account, simply tweet PEKKA? He made way too many saves that were beyond belief to keep track of. He was the best in the world at what he did, and nobody can convince me otherwise.
The one thing that worried me during the season was that he played a little too much. He had the eighth-most games played during the regular season among goalies. This can be partially justified due to the Predators wanting him to win that trophy. Also, because he was so darn good during his starts. The thing is that Juuse Saros was also really good when he got a chance to play. He proved during the 2017-18 season that he’s a future first-string goalie. It’ll happen sooner rather than later. Maybe not next season like some have suggested, but Saros’ time is coming.
I have long been a proponent of keeping goalies fresh for the postseason. I get yelled at when I suggest that the same person shouldn’t start every single postseason game. Old heads tell me that the postseason is a different game, and the top goalie needs to start every single postseason game. If they don’t, their confidence is shaken beyond repair. There’s some truth in these words, I’m sure. But the way the Predators’ postseason played out, I’m not sure that Peter Laviolette shouldn’t have looked at things differently.
Bad Times in the Postseason
We all figured out pretty early in the postseason that the Nashville Predators were compromised. A team that gave up the second-fewest goals in the regular season was getting carved up by the Colorado Avalanche on a regular basis. The Predators lost a game where he gave up four goals on fifteen shot attempts. The Nashville defensemen had a terrible postseason from top to bottom, and Rinne paid the price.
There were definitely games where he had no chance thanks to his underperforming defensemen. Game 7 against Winnipeg was not one of those games. He gave up two horrendous goals. I wish there was a choice other than pulling him at that point, but there wasn’t. It was Game 7, win or go home, and Rinne was not on his A game. Laviolette had no choice but to put Saros in after those two ducks Rinne let go in.
His .903 save percentage during the postseason was lower than any stretch he had during the regular season, along with his 3.07 GAA. Both ranked the lowest out of any goalie that made it as far in the playoffs. He managed to get two shutouts during this stretch, which tells you how bad things were in the other games.
When you look at the stats, it’s amazing the Nashville Predators got as far as they did. Colorado outplayed them, and Winnipeg outplayed them. Talent can only get you so far when it’s not producing. Rinne was part of that group of talent which didn’t produce when it counted.
Typically, the last thing we see is the first thing we remember. It would be a shame for Pekka Rinne’s remarkable play from October 2017 to April 2018 to be wiped out by a disappointing string of performances in May. That being said, the postseason is what hockey players base their sense of accomplishment on. They’ll be the first to tell you that individual accomplishments pale in comparison to winning the Stanley Cup.
Rinne has a good chance of winning the Vezina Trophy. Hopefully, when he looks back on 2017-18 after his career ends, he won’t remember it as his best chance at holding the Cup slipping away.
Overall Grade: A-
It would have been an A+ if his play in the postseason matched the regular season. As much as people would like to tell me otherwise, it did not. My lying eyes tell me he wasn’t as good in the Winnipeg series as he was before. We don’t need to move on from Pekka Rinne, not by a long shot. Do we need to give Juuse Saros more time? Absolutely.