NHL on NBCSN: Age not getting in the way of Pekka Rinne

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks with coverage beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

There was once a time when thoughts were that the emergence of Juuse Saros would spell an end to Pekka Rinne’s days in Nashville. The young Finn would take the torch from the elder Finn and continue backstopping the Predators to success.

Well, like a fine wine Rinne’s only improved with age, and last season’s Vezina Trophy winner isn’t slowing down at age 36.

No goaltender in the NHL this season with at least 20 starts has a better even strength save percentage (.943) or a allowed fewer 5-on-5 goals (28). It’s the continuance of a trend for Rinne that’s seen him improve as he gets later into his 30s. Last month, he signed a two-year, $10M extension on his birthday. Hours after the signing became official he went out and stopped all 26 shots he faced during a 1-0 shutout of the Boston Bruins.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

“I don’t know how he does it. He’s getting older and you wouldn’t know it,” said Predators head coach Peter Laviolette recently. “It doesn’t seem to affect him.’

It’s quite a run when you consider that Rinne told Sports Illustrated’s Alex Prewitt that when he signed his seven-year, $49M extension in 2011, he envisioned the 2018-19 season being his final one before retirement.

“I remember seeing guys who were 36 and thinking, ‘Okay, that’s pretty much the age I’m aiming for,'” he said. “And now that I’m there, I’ve been having so much fun. I feel much better than ever.”

As the Predators once again eye a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, they will be led by the winningest Finnish goalie in NHL history, who is also looking to become the first over-35 netminder in league history to win back-to-back Vezina Trophies. This season could have been his swan song. Instead, Rinne is showing that he has a number of good years left in him.

NOTES:

• Following Monday night’s loss to Ottawa, the Predators have now lost seven straight on the road (0-5-2) after starting the season 8-0-0 away from Bridgestone Arena. Tuesday’s meeting with the Blackhawks is at United Center.

• When they won the Presidents’ Trophy last season with 117 points, Nashville also had exactly 46 points through December 17 (21-7-4 record).

• Despite getting pulled last night after allowing three goals on 11 shots in the first period, Rinne has been largely stellar this season with a 14-5-1 record, .926 SV% and 2.07 GAA.

• Chicago was 6-6-3 when they fired Joel Quenneville, but are now 4-13-3 under Jeremy Colliton.

• When they do score the 1st goal of the game, Chicago is 8-2-4. When they allow the first goal of the game, they are 2-17-2.

• Chicago has just 12 power play goals all season, tied with Philadelphia for the fewest in the league. Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine leads the league with 10 power play goals on his own.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Gibson – Rinne trumps Kesler – Johansen

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Three Stars

1. Sebastian Aho

Monday was a big night for Sebastian Aho, Forward Version.

He was one of only two players to generate two points – so, yeah, Monday was pretty big for goalies – and his overtime goal was so smooth (and so funny at Brent Seabrook‘s expense) that it got its own post.

Aho generated the lone assist on Teuvo Teravainen‘s power-play goal, which helped Carolina get back into the game after falling behind 2-0 to Cam Ward and the Chicago Blackhawks.

By the way, Ward doesn’t make it to the three stars, but he managed 37 saves in his return to Carolina. Worth a mention, especially for a goalie who feels very far removed from his glory days with the Hurricanes franchise.

2. John Gibson

Heading into Monday’s contest in Anaheim, the buzz surrounded Ryan Kesler and Ryan Johansen. Would the two brawl in the parking lot, like an “Attitude Era” episode of Monday Night Raw? Perhaps they would settle their dispute by gorging on goals?

Nope.

Instead, Gibson and Pekka Rinne lived up to their 2018-19 reputations as two of the best goalies (if not the two best, full-stop) in the NHL. The contest went into the shootout 1-1, but Gibson was the netminder who finished with the W, with Gibson making 34 saves (including 10 in overtime) while Rinne stopped 29 shots.

As talented as both are and as productive as they’ve been really since last season, it’s tough to imagine them avoiding the natural pull of regression, at least to some extent. With that in mind, it was nice to see those two goalies carry their outstanding work into that game, and then deliver with a true goalie duel.

The Predators lost their first road game via the shootout, yet they kept their away point streak alive. The Ducks needed this much more, even if this sticks to the script of Gibson being an all-world, MVP-caliber goalie.

3. Cam Atkinson

You can thank Aho, Rinne, and Gibson for the headline not being something Atkinson Diet-related.

(Stashes that already-extremely-dusty joke for later.)

Atkinson joined Aho as one of two players to generate two points on a low-scoring Monday. While Atkinson didn’t generate the GWG like Aho did, he bares the distinction of being involved in all of Columbus’ goals in a tight win against the Stars. This was a nasty affair at times, as you can see from this fight between Jamie Benn and Josh Anderson.

As strong a night as Atkinson enjoyed, the Blue Jackets might most heartened by the possibility that Sergei Bobrovsky could be back in the zone.

Highlights

Rinne didn’t get the win, but he probably made the most ludicrous save, although there were enough great ones in this that I could be wrong.

Anton Khudobin couldn’t grab a win or even a point for Dallas in that tense, tight game against Columbus, but he did make this save.

Speaking of nice saves in losing efforts, here’s the best from Cam Ward:

Again, Aho’s OTGWG was quite something, so check it out here.

Factoids

Maybe the Hurricanes’ barrage of shots wasn’t a product of Bill Peters? Or maybe they haven’t forgotten his lessons?

Henrik Lundqvist continues to make history, and the Rangers are quietly heating up. If you want to tank, Lundqvist isn’t exactly your guy.

Scores

NYR 2 – VAN 1
CAR 3 – CHI 2 (OT)
CBJ 2 – DAL 1
ANA 2 – NSH 1 (SO)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Predators, Rinne sign two-year, $10 million extension

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It appears that Pekka Rinne will finish his career in the place it started.

The Nashville Predators locked up the 36-year-old netminder on a two-year extension, a lead that will pay him $10 million over its course ($6 million in 2019-20, $4 million in 2020-21). Rinne was drafted by the Preds in the eighth round in 2004. Since then, he’s become the club’s franchise leader in too many records to count.

Not a bad birthday present, again.

Essentially, Rinne takes a hometown discount here. His annual average value will drop from $7 million to $5 million beginning next year, dropping him outside the top 10 highest paid goalies. This is important and we will get to it in a second.

“Pekka Rinne has been the most impactful player our franchise has ever had, both on the ice as one of the NHL’s best goaltenders, and off the ice as a leader in the community,” Nashville general manager David Poile said. “Both the organization and Pekka want him to play his entire career with the Predators, and this helps accomplish that objective, while also stabilizing our goaltending for at least the next two seasons beyond 2018-19. We feel the tandem of Pekka and Juuse Saros is among the best in the League.”

The move might seem quizzical at first glance. The Preds have been grooming Saros as Rinne’s heir-apparent for a while now, so why give Rinne another big-money extension while limiting Saros’ role over the next couple of seasons?

Saros was impressive in his stint as a starter this season with Rinne out with an injury. In eight games (five of which he started in Rinne’s absence) Saros has posted a 6-2-0 record with a .917 save percentage.

The thing is, you can’t just let Rinne go while he’s still on top of his game. He won the Vezina for the first time in his career last season and despite his injury, has the second-best five-on-five save percentage in the league at .961 and owns a 4-1-0 record.

Skeptics will point to his playoff performance last season, including his Game 7 debacle in the second round against Winnipeg, and that’s fair game. Rinne was disastrous, falling from his .927 regular season save percentage mark to .904 in the postseason, including a dreadful .848 in home games.

Perhaps the playoffs were just a blip on the radar. Rinne hasn’t shown any ill-effects stemming from it. It seems Nashville is comfortable with how Rinne has rebounded after putting all the blame on his own shoulders following their playoff exit.

What Poile has engineered here, then, is quite clever. Rinne and Saros (whose cap hit is $1.5 million for the next three seasons) will make a combined $6.5 million, $500,000 less than Rinne is making this year.

Given that the Preds are already counting $69 million toward the cap next year, it’s pretty brilliant that they can keep arguably the best one-two punch between the pipes for a while more.

There’s little risk here. There’s no lengthy term, the money is right and there’s more time to ease Saros into the starter’s role, which is ultimately good for the future of the franchise.

Nashville’s attention now needs to turn to defenseman Roman Josi, who will be looking for a big money extension. The Preds will also have Kevin Fiala, Ryan Hartman and Colton Sissons as restricted-free agents at the end of this season.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Jets’ Connor goes off, pushes Predators to the brink

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Few can stop the Winnipeg Jets once they get going.

And so while the Nashville Predators — the NHL’s best team in the regular season and a team with arguably the best defensive corps in all the land — seem to have the tools necessary for cessation, they simply, like many other teams, couldn’t stop the boulder that is the Jets offense once it dislodged from its standstill.

Now, the Jets are on the verge of the Western Conference Final with a 6-2 win on Saturday and will have a chance to close out the series with the backing of the Whiteout in Winnipeg on Monday night.

Saturday’s game will be referred to be Jets fans (and begrudgingly by Predators fans) as the Kyle Connor Show, and for good reason.

Connor paced all rookies in goal-scoring this season but hadn’t found the back of the net in nine playoff games coming into Saturdays’ tilt.

The Michigan product made sure that streak didn’t extend to 10, picking a great time to pot not just his first career playoff goal, but also his second as the Jets found the back of the net four times in the second period.

Winnipeg’s onslaught began with Paul Stastny standing in front of the net and allowing Patrik Laine to wire a wrist shot off him into the back of the net. It was briefly halted by Yannick Weber but resumed shortly thereafter with both of Connor’s goals bookmarking Dustin Byfuglien‘s fourth of the playoffs.

Connor showed he can do more than score, making Ryan Johansen just a pawn in his game with one of the filthier moves of the playoffs.

Pekka Rinne received a mercy pull for the second time in the series after allowing six goals on 26 shots. He can’t take all of the blame — Nashville’s defense on the night was porous at best — but he needs more performances like Game 4 if the Predators are going to force Game 7.

Fellow Vezina candidate Connor Hellebuyck bailed the Jets out in the first period as the Predators pushed for an opener and finished with 38 saves.

Monday night’s Whiteout in Winnipeg is going to be next-level.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Predators’ Fiala notches winner in double overtime to even series with Jets

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Ryan Johansen called Game 2 of the Western Conference Second Round between his Nashville Predators and the Winnipeg Jets a must-win.

A little early for the distinction? Perhaps. But the thought of heading back to Winnipeg — and into the Whiteout — down 2-0 had to be a daunting thought.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

In a game defined by the resiliency of both teams, it was the Predators who outlasted the Jets as Kevin Fiala scored on a deke past Connor Hellebuyck on a 2-on-1 rush at 5:45 of double overtime even the best-of-7 series 1-1.

Simply put, it was a massive goal, a massive win and maybe a little redemption after a dominant performance in Game 1 left the Predators wanting in Friday’s 4-1 loss.

The majority of the 25:45 of free hockey that was played was a lesson in how manic the game of hockey can be. Chances, near-misses, desperate saves — all contained in some of the most exciting hockey thus far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The game arrived in overtime after a frantic battle between two determined teams in regulation.

If Game 1 didn’t live up to the hype after a lopsided game one way resulted in an unlikely win in the other direction, Game 2 certainly made up for it.

Mark Scheifele‘s goal with 1:05 remaining in the third period, with Winnipeg’s net vacant, capped it off and ensured the hype train would keep chugging along.

Prior to that, Johansen scored his second goal of the night to give the Predators a 4-3 lead with 14 minutes and change remaining in the game.

His first came two periods earlier, just 27 seconds into the game to give the Preds a quick 1-0 lead. The lead wouldn’t hold and the Jets scored twice in 29 seconds before the period was through, including Scheifele’s first of the game.

Nashville rallied in the second period, scoring twice to take a 3-2 lead into the third period. Brandon Tanev tied the game at 5:11 of the third, only to watch from the bench as the Johansen scored a beauty 34 seconds later to retake the lead, one that would last until Scheifele’s crucial equalizer at 18:55.

Pekka Rinne made 46 saves when it was all said and done, just 48 hours after he was removed from Game 1 following a poor outing.

Game 3 of the series shifts to Winnipeg on Tuesday night


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck