Healthy Rinne should make difference for Predators

Sunday, 08.10.2014 / 10:53 AM CT / Features
By John Manasso  - NHL.com
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Healthy Rinne should make difference for Predators
Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne missed most of last season with an infection in his hip, but is healthy again and ready to contribute.

As hard as the Nashville Predators worked to stabilize their season during the first half of last season, they were unable to do so without injured goaltender Pekka Rinne.

The two-time Vezina Trophy finalist had major hip surgery in May 2013. Less than three weeks into the 2013-14 season, the hip became infected and he was sidelined for more than four months.

With the Predators using a young defense that included a 19-year-old and three 23-year-olds, the goaltending duties fell to two players who entered last season with one combined game of NHL experience, Carter Hutton and Marek Mazanec. Hutton eventually became consistent, but there were some growing pains along the way; the Predators had a four-game losing streak in November in which they were outscored 17-2.

Rinne owns a career save percentage of .918, although that dipped to a career low (in seasons in which he has played in more than two games) of .902 last season. The four other goalies used by the Predators posted a collective save percentage of .904 in 2013-14.

It seems a fairly safe bet that if the Predators had a healthy Rinne and if he played anywhere close to his career norms, Nashville would have been a playoff team last season.

The question is whether the 31-year-old Rinne, who led the NHL in wins in 2011-12 with 43, will return to top form. Predators general manager David Poile is betting that he will, citing the fact that Rinne was named the most valuable player at the World Championship in May. Rinne had a .928 save percentage and three shutouts during the tournament, leading Finland to the gold medal game, where it lost 5-2 to Russia.

He also finished last season with two shutouts and one regulation loss in his final seven games. Poile said the hip severely curtailed Rinne's offseason regimen in 2012 (a year before he had surgery), making this summer his first normal one in three years.

"Pekka was good at the end of the season," Poile said. "I think he confirmed that to himself by playing at the World Championships and being named MVP of the World Championships. We've been in touch with him over the summer and he feels really great, which he hadn't been able to work out actually the last two summers…. A healthy Pekka Rinne makes everybody look better."

One factor that remains an unknown in terms of how it will affect Rinne is a change at the goaltending coach position. Mitch Korn, who departed to follow former Nashville coach Barry Trotz to the Washington Capitals, earned something of a reputation as a guru at the position. Korn played an integral role in developing Rinne, who was an eighth-round pick (No. 258) in 2004.

The Predators' new goaltending coach is Ben Vanderklok, who worked under Korn and served as Nashville's assistant goaltending coach for the past five seasons. In a news release announcing the promotion of Vanderklok, Poile called him a "natural fit" and cited Vanderklok's history of working with Korn.

In the highly competitive Central Division, Rinne could be a difference-maker. Rinne is the only goalie in the division other than Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks who has won all four games in a playoff series, a feat he has accomplished twice.

For all 30 in 30 stories go to NHL.com/30in30stories and for the full 30 in 30 schedule visit NHL.com/30in30.

Author: John Manasso | NHL.com Correspondent

SCHEDULE
 

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS
 

WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 z - ANA 82 51 24 7 228 221 109
2 y - STL 82 51 24 7 239 197 109
3 x - NSH 82 47 25 10 226 202 104
4 x - CHI 82 48 28 6 220 186 102
5 x - VAN 82 48 29 5 236 220 101
6 x - MIN 82 46 28 8 227 198 100
7 x - WPG 82 43 26 13 223 204 99
8 x - CGY 82 45 30 7 237 213 97
9 LAK 82 40 27 15 218 197 95
10 DAL 82 41 31 10 257 257 92
11 COL 82 39 31 12 209 223 90
12 SJS 82 40 33 9 224 226 89
13 EDM 82 24 44 14 193 276 62
14 ARI 82 24 50 8 165 267 56

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
F. Forsberg 82 26 37 15 63
M. Ribeiro 82 15 47 11 62
R. Josi 81 15 40 15 55
S. Weber 78 15 30 15 45
C. Smith 82 23 21 11 44
C. Wilson 77 20 22 19 42
M. Fisher 59 19 20 4 39
J. Neal 67 23 14 12 37
R. Ellis 58 9 18 8 27
S. Jones 82 8 19 3 27
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
P. Rinne 41 17 6 .923 2.18
C. Hutton 6 7 4 .902 2.61