If you spend enough time on Hockey Twitter, you’ll notice that some goalies get extra rope, while others seem to receive less benefit of the doubt.
Sometimes the difference between mainstream opinions and more analytics-minded takes can be profound. Jonathan Quick‘s spotty numbers and jaw-dropping athleticism has made him a magnet for debates. Steve Mason is less “Sieve Mason” and more a hidden gem in many corners, with some weighing his rough 2016-17 more than others.
As the Nashville Predators have made some great upgrades over the years in trading for P.K. Subban and Filip Forsberg,* Pekka Rinne has increasingly been viewed as the anchor that could weigh this team’s ascent down.
Some bumpy seasons didn’t help the big Finn’s cause.
Injuries and inconsistent play convened for two rough seasons in 2012-13 and 2013-14. With a .908 save percentage in 2015-16 as well, the narrative against Rinne was only building.
Rinne’s been off to a strong start so far in 2017-18, with a stellar performance against the Chicago Blackhawks prompting some to believe that he owns the ‘Hawks (maybe like how some believe Matt Murray has a similar impact on the Preds?).
Overall, Rinne is 5-1-2 with an outstanding .940 save percentage this season. His one shutout already tied him with a guy he likely looked up to coming up through the ranks, so Rinne could sit high on the all-time list of Finns in net:
Now, sure, Rinne struggled during the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, but that seems like an awfully harsh way to measure any goalie. Sergei Bobrovsky won his second Vezina with a masterful season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, yet the Pittsburgh Penguins got to him. Braden Holtby might be the steadiest goalie in the NHL, but dueling with Marc-Andre Fleury and the Pens made him look more ordinary at times.
It’s not as if this is limited to a mere hot week or two, either. Since 2016-17, Rinne boasts a strong .921 save percentage. When measured against goalies with at least 30 games played, Rinne is tied for seventh during that span, matching Matt Murray, Corey Crawford, Antti Raanta, and Devan Dubnyk.
If you prefer even-strength save percentage, Rinne is tied for sixth during the same span, matching Crawford with a fantastic .930 mark.
Rinne may very well enjoy a run of three strong years in his last four seasons, countering three of four tough runs from 2012-13 to 2015-16. Rinne managed a .923 save percentage in 2014-15, a rough .908 mark in 2015-16, a nice .918 average last season, and is off to this red-hot start.
At some point you have to stop chalking someone’s success up to outside factors (previously Barry Trotz, always seemingly some prominent defensemen) and give at least some of the credit to Rinne, who boasts a healthy career save percentage of .918. He’s been a workhorse and quite the inspiring success story as the 31st pick of an eighth round (258th overall in 2004).
Is this a guarantee that Rinne will enjoy a strong full season and silence his critics forever? Not at all. Goalies are an unpredictable lot, and Rinne’s bound to face some tough times. At 34, his best days could very well be behind him.
Still, for those who bury Rinne as a reflex at this point, you have to admit: at least some of the numbers sure seem to smile on the big guy.
* – The Ryan Johansen addition was great, but time will tell if he’s viewed as more valuable than Seth Jones over the long haul. At minimum, it was two teams trading from areas of strength to address weaknesses.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.