By Scott Taylor
Photo by James Carey Lauder
A week ago, everyone in hockey was hailing Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne. He had been almost unbeatable and had carried the Preds to the Stanley Cup final.
Now, after the first two games of the championship round against the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins, Predators head coach Peter Laviolette won’t commit to Rinne for Game 3.
What happened to Rinne, a guy who entered the final with a 1.70 goals against average and a .941 save percentage?
Well, first of all, if you can figure it out then you know why the Predators are down 2-0 in the final. However, the numbers don’t lie.
In the first two games at Pittsburgh’s PPG Paints Arena, Rinne had a .778 save percentage. In Game 1, he allowed four goals on 12 shots. Despite an almost perfect defensive effort by his teammates, Rinne couldn’t make a save when he needed one.
In Game 2, he gave up three goals in first 3 ½ minutes of the third period in a game that was deadlocked at 1-1. As a result, in nine games, the great Pekka Rinne, one of the three or four best goaltenders in the NHL, has never beaten the Pittsburgh Penguins.
For those who love advanced analytics, Rinne’s performance has made those numbers a nightmare for Nashville. In fact, Nashville has dominated possession statistics and high-danger chances in the first two games.
Now, to be fair, there was no way Rinne was going to be as good against Pittsburgh (or anybody else) as he was in the first round against Chicago. Rinne had a .976 save percentage against the Hawks. That’s borderline impossible. He shut out the Blackhawks twice in four games and allowed just three goals on 126 shots. That number fell to .932 against St. Louis and .925 against Anaheim. His save percentage numbers have gone down in every series, but .925 is still pretty damn good. After all, his career save percentage is .916 in 66 playoff games.
Still, nobody thought Rinne would be this bad. There are junior and college goalies who would have stopped nine of 12 shots in the first game. Rinne stopped only eight. He’s better than that.
Regardless, Rinne has stopped just 28-of-36 shots in the five-plus periods he’s played in the final. Meanwhile, Nashville has outshot Pittsburgh 64-39 in the first two games and they find themselves down 2-0.
Sure, Jake Guentzel, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby have been wonderful in these playoffs and it’s likely one of them will win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, but Pekka Rinne was almost a certain winner until he somehow lost his way.
Rinne is a class act. He answered every question directed his way after the loss in Game 2. He’s been that way all season long. Nashville defenseman Ryan Ellis said on Tuesday that Rinne was, “our team’s MVP this season.”
“Obviously, it’s a mental thing,” Rinne said on Wednesday. “You just have to look back to good games and make yourself feel better.
“It’s very disappointing right now. We have to put it behind you. For me, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. I waited a long time and it’s my first time having a chance to play for the Cup. You just have to bury these two games and find a way to have some success.”
Saturday night, the Predators play Game 3 at home. Rinne might or might not play. He should. He’s the guy who got the Preds past Chicago in a series that no one thought they’d win. They not only won, they dominated and now they have a chance to play for the Cup.
Despite two bad games, Rinne is still the Predators MVP. They will not win the Cup without him.