Under Pressure: Pekka Rinne

4 Comments

“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.