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Can Pekka Rinne save the Preds’ season?

Mar 3, 2014, 2:58 PM EDT

Nashville Predators v Colorado Avalanche Getty Images

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.

Related: On Legwand, Nashville and shades of Suter

  1. lowenni - Mar 3, 2014 at 3:07 PM

    It’s somewhat possible. I still don’t think Nashville’s forward depth is strong enough to get them into the postseason. While Rinne is a fantastic goaltender, it’s possible it takes him a few games to get back up to NHL speed and just those few games could push the Preds out of a playoff picture that’s already looking tough to get into for them. He was fantastic in 2011-12 (when the Preds also had Suter in front of him), but was only just good last year. He’ll help them, but I don’t think he can save them. The only thing that can save the Preds is a true top-line forward.

  2. wjarvis - Mar 3, 2014 at 3:17 PM

    Don’t think the season is going to be saved, they only have 21 games left, 9 of them are against teams that already have at least 83 points, and only 4 against the teams they’re chasing. Besides unless Rinne also puts a couple pucks in the net, one of the worst scoring teams in the league isn’t going anywhere in the playoffs even if they can get there.

  3. bspray - Mar 3, 2014 at 3:35 PM

    I agree completely with the sentiment that the Preds need scoring not goaltending. Having said that, no top tier scoring talent is going to come play for a coach like Trotz that only wants two way grinders playing forward.

    Until Nashville makes a change at head coach, they are going to continue to be a middle of the road, grind it out, defensive team that scores two goals a game.

  4. penguins87and71 - Mar 3, 2014 at 3:43 PM

    I think Rinne won’t really make much of a difference this year for the Predators. It’s going to take him some time to get acclimated to game action again. The Predators are in the west so that doesn’t help their cause either, now if they were in the east.

  5. Idaslapter - Mar 3, 2014 at 6:39 PM

    Suter had nothing to do with Pekka’s success.

    • guitarhunterdude - Mar 3, 2014 at 6:51 PM

      Defensemen and defensive systems rarely do. Good goalies are good wherever they play, whoever’s in front of them. See: Miller, Ryan and Scrivens, Ben.

  6. prov1x - Mar 3, 2014 at 8:07 PM

    Rinne played hurt last year. Surgery right after season. That’s why numbers were down in 12-13.

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