Preds' Rinne on pace to earn top goalie honors
FEB 15, 2013 2:01p ET
Entering Friday’s games, the Preds are tied for the fourth-most points in the NHL with 18, as they have gone 6-1-1 in their last eight games, mostly thanks to Rinne, and proving the team right for handing the 6-foot-5 Finn a seven-year deal worth $49 million in November 2011.
With the Preds already 14 games through the 48-game season, it begs the question: is 2013 the season the one in which Rinne finally breaks through and wins the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie?
Rinne’s goaltending coach Mitch Korn told FOXSportsTennessee.com that Rinne is “pretty close” to playing as well as Korn has ever seen the 30-year-old play.
“It’s a combination of a few things,” Korn said. “We’re doing an excellent job of giving him a chance to be good. . . . It’s not like he’s having one of those 25- to 30-(scoring) chance nights every night. He’s had to make huge saves at key times and we’ve provided, as a team, a great deal of defensive support so it’s been a nice marriage up in there.”
Korn said he told Rinne after Thursday’s 3-0 win over Phoenix -- Rinne’s second-straight shutout which extended the goalie’s scoreless streak to 137 minutes 41 seconds -- that as the season has unfolded Rinne has “gotten way better at not being busy and yet having to make a huge save and being up to the save.”
To Korn’s point about the Preds’ defensive prowess, they are far and away the stingiest team in the league right now. They’re allowing only 1.64 goals per game. Granted, the season is far from over, but the next closest team is Ottawa, which is allowing 1.86 goals per game for a difference of 0.22. Over the previous four seasons, the largest margin between the top two teams was 0.18 last season when St. Louis allowed 1.89 goals per game and that was a lot more than previous seasons (before that, Boston allowed 2.20 goals per game to Vancouver’s 2.30 in 2011).
In recent seasons, it appears that a team’s goals-against average is an important factor in which goalie wins the Vezina. Last season when Henrik Lundqvist won it, the New York Rangers ranked third in goals allowed per game. In 2011 when Tim Thomas won it, Boston ranked second and when he won it in ’09 the Bruins ranked first.
When Buffalo’s Ryan Miller won it in 2010, the Sabres ranked fourth. In the two seasons in which Rinne has been a finalist, the Preds ranked eighth (last season) in that category and third ('11) – a spot behind Boston when Thomas won it.
What could also bolster Rinne’s credentials come voting time is that the Preds rank dead last in scoring. In games such as Tuesday’s 1-0 overtime win over San Jose, Rinne has had to be brilliant just for the Preds earn points. He quite literally stole that game with 25 saves. The Preds’ struggling offense also is a reason why some at this early juncture are touting Rinne as a candidate for the Hart Trophy (MVP).
Korn credits Rinne’s decision to play in Russia’s KHL during the lockout as integral to his play right now. Rinne, who led the NHL in wins last season, played with Dynamo Minsk, posting a 9-11-2 record for an uncharacteristic 3.08 goals against average. Fifteen teams in the 26-team league finished with better regular season records than Minsk.
“I think the general feeling was it was better to have played than not to have played, even though it might not have been an ideal situation or an ideal team to play with based on their results,” Korn said. “ . . . Other than that, what it’s done, too, is it’s really made him -- and I bet a lot of other guys -- appreciate how really special the National Hockey League is, and Nashville, to that extent.”
This month, Rinne is 5-1 with a 0.82 GAA and .969 save percentage helping to pull the Preds within five points of Central Division leader Chicago, which still has yet to lose in regulation this season. To break his personal best scoreless streak, he needs to play about 12 more minutes of shut-out hockey. The franchise record is held by Dan Ellis, who went an amazing 233:39 without giving up a goal from March 22-30 in 2008. Rinne would need to shut out Anaheim, whose 3.25 goals per game rank third in the league, on Saturday at Bridgestone Arena and then go another 35 minutes after that to break Ellis’ mark.
But, for now, Rinne is just concentrating on the cliché: one game at a time. At least, that’s what Korn said when asked whether this is the year when Rinne finally wins the Vezina.
“Well, it’s early,” Korn said, who then referenced the recent season-ending injury to Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson, who won the Norris Trophy last season as the league’s top defenseman. “We can speculate all we want. If -- for a two-letter word, that’s a huge word -- this game can change at a moment’s notice. Look at the perception of how Ottawa is going to dramatically change, so you don’t know.
“From my standpoint and, really, his, you just play one game at a time and stay in the good graces of the hockey gods. You can’t look too far ahead. You really can’t.”
Well, maybe they can’t, but we can.
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