If Rinne can stay healthy, could the Preds surprise?

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Hockey teams that don’t score a ton of goals can’t afford to get below-average goaltending.

Unfortunately for the Nashville Predators, that’s been the case the past two seasons, as their star netminder, Pekka Rinne, has battled hip issues that have either kept him out of the lineup or adversely affected his play.

Hence, the relief in Music City that Rinne’s hip “feels great” heading into 2014-15.

“I had a good summer,” the 31-year-old said yesterday, per The Tennessean. “I worked hard and stayed healthy. I’m just really excited for this upcoming season. I feel like I’m ready to go.”

In 2013-14, the Preds’ team save percentage finished at .902, the fifth lowest in the NHL. The season before, the number was even lower, at .900. Both times Nashville missed the playoffs.

The Preds would love to see their team save percentage back to around the levels it was in 2010-11 (.924) and 2011-12 (.919), both playoff seasons.

But despite Rinne’s excitement, expectations for the Preds are generally low, as evidenced by online sportsbook Bovada recently setting their 2014-15 point total at just 76.5. (Only Calgary, Florida, and Buffalo had lower totals.)

This is a team that has the potential to surprise, however. It has a Vezina Trophy-caliber goalie in Rinne and a Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman in Shea Weber. It has promising youngsters in Seth Jones and Filip Forsberg. And to help new coach Peter Laviolette with the offense, it’s added a proven sniper in James Neal, as well as veteran forwards Mike Ribeiro, Derek Roy and Olli Jokinen.

While the Mike Fisher injury does hurt, it’s worth noting that the Preds did manage to win 36 games in regulation or overtime last season. That’s the same number as the Dallas Stars, one more than the Minnesota Wild, and two more than the Detroit Red Wings — all three of those teams being playoff teams. A 2-9 record in the shootout was a big issue for Nashville, but there’s reason to believe that could be different in 2014-15.