Nashville Predators: Season Grades for Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros

NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 29: Pekka Rinne #35 congratulates Juuse Saros #74 of the Nashville Predators on a 5-3 win against the San Jose Sharks during an NHL game at Bridgestone Arena on March 29, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 29: Pekka Rinne #35 congratulates Juuse Saros #74 of the Nashville Predators on a 5-3 win against the San Jose Sharks during an NHL game at Bridgestone Arena on March 29, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images) /

Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros shared the goaltending load for the Nashville Predators. Here are our season grades for the duo.

On their way to a second straight Central Division title, the Nashville Predators had to navigate through some choppy waters. At times the offense looked lost, and that meant solid play from Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros. Few teams are fortunate enough to have two goaltenders who can turn in special performances as these two can. There were nights when the Predators had no business having a chance to gain two points in the standings, but somehow they did thanks to spectacular save after spectacular save.

This was set up to be an interesting season for the Predators in the crease as Rinne and Saros continued sharing starts. Rinne ended up starting four games fewer than his Vezina Trophy season the previous year. Saros, in return, sets a new career high in starts with 27 and wins with 17. The question is did Saros do enough for us to feel fully confident in him being the franchise’s future goaltender when Rinne finally hangs it up? Both players had their fair share of dud performances in 2018-19, but there were other factors involved, too.

The Predators had much bigger problems that contributed to them being prematurely ousted in the first round of the playoffs. They both had their lapses, but they certainly weren’t the primary weaknesses. Let’s grade both guys and reflect on their performances.

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Is Saros ready to take over?

Saros had some glimpses of greatness over his 31 game appearances but also had some forgettable outings. He logged six “really bad starts”, which measures any start with a save percentage below 85. He was also called upon to relieve a few of Rinne’s bad starts, including one in the first round of the playoffs. In relief, Saros usually played pretty well, including stopping all 13 shots he faced in a 6-3 loss to Carolina in mid-January. It was too little too late when he came in for Rinne in Game 4 against Dallas, a game we’ve all tried to erase from our memories to keep our collective sanity. However, he won’t be a reliever for much longer. How he’s performing as the starter is what matters.

Performance in high-danger situations is a big area to watch. Saros managed a high-danger save percentage of 80, which isn’t terrible but isn’t great, either. Goaltenders who excel in this area are usually among the best in the league when using a large sample size. In the case of Saros, he went backward. We didn’t see him stand tall as much as we would like as he prepares to be the franchise goaltender post-Rinne.

There’s a lot to be desired after Saros’ third NHL season. He didn’t make that big jump that I would’ve liked to have seen, despite getting more playing time. He took a step back in a lot of statistical categories from his previous season where he registered 23 starts and a save percentage just below 93. I can’t say that he took a complete step backward, but he didn’t really move forward, either. It leaves another difficult decision for Peter Laviolette to make on how he will split time between his two netminders.

It’s difficult to draw any big conclusions from Saros’ third season in the NHL. He didn’t do much to raise my confidence in him taking more starts than Rinne next season. He showed inconsistency, as did the entire team, while also going on stretches where he looked like a future Vezina contender. The jury is obviously still out on what the ceiling is for Saros, but he gets a B-for his 2018-19 campaign, with a lot to be desired.

Pekka Rinne still the guy

It’s easy to point at the goaltender when things go wrong for your hockey team. However, we can’t look at Rinne for why the Predators got ousted by Dallas in the first round. When you skim over Rinne’s numbers, they don’t look pretty. Fresh off a Vezina Trophy season, Rinne did regress. That should have been expected. However, Rinne also on numerous occasions stood on his head and strung together so many miraculous saves to allow the Predators to sneak away with two points. He bailed them out so many times and was hung out to dry several times as well.

Rinne’s most impressive stat from last season is his high-danger save percentage of nearly 86 in five-on-five situations. No other goaltender had a higher number and played as many games as Rinne’s 55 games played. You have St.Louis rookie Jordan Binnington with a better number, but he also played 23 fewer games. This save percentage doesn’t surprise me as he has always done this. He’s always been a highlight-reel goaltender that can be streaky at times.

Rinne was a major factor in the Predators surging over the last month of the regular season to capture a second-straight division title. Over his last ten starts of the regular season, Rinne gave up two goals or less in seven of those games. He blanked a talented Toronto team and had a 42-save win in Pittsburgh to settle some demons he has there. The way he ended the regular season on a high note is huge in my confidence for him being the starter for opening night next season.

Hang with me here, but Rinne probably kept the Predators from being swept in the first round. His worst start was Game 5 when he gave up three even-strength goals that put Nashville in a two-goal deficit after striking first with Rocco Grimaldi. I’m not even blaming Rinne for the Game 4 disaster as he was forced to handle a barrage of Dallas power play attempts right out of the gate. His teammates never gave him a chance in that one. Aside from those two games, Rinne matched Ben Bishop‘s stellar play in net on the other side for Dallas. The Stars would’ve scored five-plus goals per game against any ordinary goaltender and Nashville would’ve been swept.

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Rinne showed in 2018-19 that he’s still one of the league’s best and the foundation of the Predators. His numbers may have dipped a bit, but the team around him took a step back as well. Luckily the Predators have another possible future star in Saros waiting to take over, but Rinne remains that guy. This past season may have ended badly for the team, but Rinne wasn’t the reason why. He gets a B+ for his 2018-19 season, mainly due to how well he did in high-danger situations and how he didn’t get the best support around him to make his numbers even better. He falls short of a perfect grade due to consistency issues. He is human after all.