Goalie Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators looks on during a break in the action against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on March 30, 2013 in Denver, Colorado.
(March 29, 2013 - Source: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images North America)

Under Pressure: Pekka Rinne

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“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Nashville Predators, we pick…Pekka Rinne.

The $49 million netminder is facing a number of questions, so let’s start with the biggest one:

How’s his health?

Rinne, who turns 31 in November, underwent hip arthroscopy during the offseason, a major procedure that sidelined him for nearly four months.

Though he’s yet to fully recover, Rinne insists he’ll “be 100 percent on opening night,” and is keen to put the 2013 campaign behind him, a season he called “so disappointing.”

Which leads to the second question: What happened last year?

While he shouldered his usual heavy workload, playing in 43 of Nashville’s 48 games, the lanky Finn wasn’t nearly as effective as previous seasons. As a result, the Preds missed the playoffs for the first time in four years.

The most startling number was his drop in save percentage. After posting a .923 and .930 in back-to-back years, Rinne finished 26th among NHL netminders last year with a .910.

But that decrease comes with an asterisk. Preds head coach Barry Trotz said Rinne was playing hurt all year, trying to win games in which he was getting little offensive support. What’s more, the club couldn’t rely on backup Chris Mason, who struggled in limited action and is now tending goal in the Italian league.

This leads us to the third pressing question: How much will Rinne need to carry the Preds this year?

Most figure Nashville isn’t going anywhere unless Rinne plays often and plays well, but it’s unclear if the team will reprise Rinne’s 2011-12 workload, when he set league highs in games (73), shots faced (2,153) and finished second in minutes played (4,168).

It’s a lot to ask of someone coming off major hip surgery.

Of course, managing Rinne’s minutes won’t be easy. Nashville’s new backup goalie is 27-year-old Carter Hutton, a former Chicago farmhand with 58 minutes of total NHL experience. It harkens back to when the Preds made Anders Lindback the No. 2 in 2010-11. Prior to getting the gig, Lindback had zero NHL games to his credit.

Lindback did have success in his rookie year, playing in 22 games and posting solid numbers (11-5-2, .915 save percentage, 2.60 GAA). Preds goalie coach Mitch Korn praised the Rinne-Lindback tandem, saying “every good team needs two competent, successful goalies,” adding, “it’s a long season.”

it’s possible Hutton could be in line for a similar workload, especially if Rinne has issues with his hip.

All this said, and as obvious as this sounds, the Preds aren’t going anywhere unless Rinne returns to the form that netted him consecutive Vezina nominations in ’11 and ’12.

Anything less, and it’s probably another year of missing the playoffs.

For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.

Blackhawks keep rolling with another dominant offensive performance

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Another night, another hat trick, and another dominant offensive showing from the Chicago Blackhawks.

On Thursday night it was Patrick Kane becoming the second Blackhawks forward in as many games to record a hat trick — following the three goal (and five point) effort Jonathan Toews had on Tuesday night — to help lead the Blackhawks to a 6-3 blowout win over the Arizona Coyotes.

Along with Kane’s three goals, Toews picked up to more assists to continue his recent scoring surge that has seen him pick up 23 points in his past 15 games. Keep in mind he only had 21 points in the 37 games prior to that.

Even more than Toews is the fact the entire Blackhawks team is clicking right now offensively.

Their win on Thursday is their eighth in the past nine games and every one of those wins has been a display of total offensive dominance, scoring 40 goals during that stretch. That is more than four goals per game. Everybody is contributing to it at this point as seven players (Toews, Kane, Richard Panik, Artemi Panarin, Nick Schmaltz, Artem Anisimov and Duncan Keith) all have at least eight points during this run.

It’s a stretch that has helped the Blackhawks gain some ground on the Minnesota Wild in the Central Division race, as they now sit three points back of the top spot.

Just about the only bad news for the Blackhawks on Thursday night was defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson leaving the game with what coach Joel Quenneville described as an upper body injury.

The Blackhawks knew he wasn’t 100 percent going into the game and dressed a seventh defenseman, Michal Rozsival, as a precaution in case Hjalmarsson could not finish. After skating just four shifts in the first period — a first period that saw the two teams combine for six goals — he exited the game and did not return. Rozsival ended up playing a pretty significant role in the game scoring his first goal of the season just two minutes into the second period for what ultimately prove to be the game-winner.

Lundqvist stays hot as Rangers move ahead of Blue Jackets

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 11:  Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers laughs as Kevin Klein #8 misses an attempt at a hattrick during the third period against the Colorado Avalanche at Madison Square Garden on February 11, 2017 in New York City.  The Rangers defeated the Avalanche 4-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Remember those few weeks earlier this season when Henrik Lundqvist was struggling, he was losing playing time to Antti Raanta, and everybody in the NHL was freaking out about the Rangers’ goaltending situation?

At this point it seems like an eternity ago.

Lundqvist has been on an absolute roll over the past month and has helped the Rangers finally gain some ground in the Metropolitan Division.

After his 32 save performance — in the Rangers’ 2-1 shootout win in Toronto on Thursday night, the Rangers are now in the third spot in the Metropolitan Division, moving ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets who for the time being move down to the top Wild Card spot. The Rangers are now just two points back of the Pittsburgh Penguins for a spot that would get them home ice in the first round.

Leading the way lately during this recent surge has been Lundqvist as he plays his best hockey of the season. In his past 13 starts the Rangers own a 10-2-1 record, while Lundqvist is carrying a .938 save percentage.

Even though the Rangers took huge steps over the summer to improve their forward depth — and it has absolutely paid off — it is still a team that is weak on the blue line and is only going to go as far as Lundqvist can carry it in the playoffs.

But with the way he is playing right now, and with the way the Rangers can roll four solid lines and score (3.28 goals per game, fourth best in the NHL) this could be a potentially scary team come playoff time.

Islanders shut out Canadiens for huge road win

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 18:  Thomas Greiss #1 of the New York Islanders in action against the New Jersey Devils on February 18, 2017 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Islanders 3-2.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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Overall this season the New York Islanders have really struggled away from the Barclays Center, a point of concern when you consider how many road games they have down the stretch as they try to overcome their miserable start to climb back into the playoffs.

Their current nine-game road trip is off to a promising start with wins in the first two games, including a 3-0 shutout win over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night to improve their record to 12-4-2 under new coach Doug Weight.

The Islanders received goals from Anthony Beauvillier, Anders Lee and John Tavares in the win, while Thomas Greiss stopped all 24 shots he faced to record his third shutout of the season.

With the win the Islanders hold sole possession of the second wild card spot in the East for the time being, two points ahead of Florida and Boston (the Bruins are in action right now) and continue their stunning second half turnaround.

But while things are going great for the Islanders right now, the struggles in Montreal continue.

With their loss on Thursday they failed to put any extra distance between themselves and the rest of the Atlantic Division that has suddenly closed the gap on them. They remain just two points up on Ottawa and only four points ahead of Toronto. The loss also continues what has been a particularly brutal stretch over the past couple of months that has seen the team win just seven of its past 20 games.

It’s probably too early to start fully panicking in Montreal, but given the way the end of last season went this can’t be a promising development for Canadiens fans.

Blackhawks’ Hjalmarsson leaves game against Coyotes

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 22:  Niklas Hjalmarsson #4 of the Chicago Blackhawks looks to pass against the Vancouver Canucks at the United Center on January 22, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Canucks 4-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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After taking just four shifts in in the first period of Thursday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson had to leave Thursday’s game with what was later revealed as an upper body injury.

Coach Joel Quenneville said after the game that they will no more on Hjalmarsson’s status when he is evaluated again on Friday.

Fortunately for the Blackhawks they dressed seven defensemen for the game when Michal Rozsival drew back into the lineup, so they still have a full lineup of defenders to finish the game. Surprisingly, Rozsival scored his first goal of the season just two minutes into the second period, breaking what had been a 3-3 tie following a wild first period that saw the teams combine for six goals.

In 59 games this season Hjalmarsson had five goals and nine assists while playing more than 20 minutes per night, mostly on a pairing with Duncan Keith.