The Nashville Predators only have 21 games to leapfrog four teams and claim the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference. According to Sports Club Stats, their chances of making the playoffs are a paltry 2.3 percent.
It sounds dire, and make no mistake, their chances aren’t good. However, it’s important to note that Sports Club Stats doesn’t take injuries into account. Important, because goalie Pekka Rinne will finally be back in net starting Tuesday versus Pittsburgh.
Unlike years in the past when Rinne was healthy, goaltending has been a big weakness for Nashville this season. The team’s save percentage is just .899, tied with Edmonton for 26th in the NHL. To nobody’s surprise, the likes of Carter Hutton, Marek Mazanec, and Devan Dubnyk haven’t been able to provide the kind of netminding that earned Rinne a $49 million contract.
Now, there’s no telling how Rinne will perform for the rest of the season. It’s been a while since he last played (Oct. 22), and it may take time, which the team doesn’t really have, to get into a groove.
Still, there are reasons to believe the Preds are better than their current place in the standings — four points out of a playoff spot — indicates.
First off, the shootout has really cost them (1-7), and we all know a team’s shootout record isn’t all that reflective of its overall quality. If the Preds were merely .500 in the “gimmick,” they’d only be one point back of a playoff spot. (Rinne is also a very good shootout goalie, which bodes well down the stretch.)
The Preds have also been playing better possession hockey lately. Per Extra Skater, they’ve had a positive Fenwick (close) in their last seven games.
On Saturday, Nashville outshot the Jets, 40-20, only to lose, 3-1.
“There’s going to be games where you feel like you get your heart ripped out of your chest and you just have to forget about what happened,” coach Barry Trotz said after the Winnipeg loss. “We played a really good hockey game, but we didn’t win it.”
Oftentimes when a team is out-possessing its opponent and still losing, it’s because its goaltending is letting it down.
Again, the Preds are long shots. But if there’s one player that gives Nashville a chance, it may be Rinne.