Pekka Rinne has some serious competition this year. But we're not talking about a race for the Hart or Vezina trophies, for which the 30-year-old Nashville Predators goalie has been a finalist the past two seasons.
Rinne's stiffest competition may be for the title of the biggest star in his own house. His longtime girlfriend, singer Kirsi Lehtosaari, is a finalist on the current season of "The Voice of Finland."
"It's very exciting for her -- and me too," Rinne said.
But don't worry about Rinne switching careers.
"I don't sing," he admitted. "I'm terrible."
Between the pipes, however, Rinne has been, despite a few tough outings as of late, as usual, terrific. With a respectable .911 save percentage and 2.31 goals-against average, Nashville's iron man has posted the NHL's most games played (31) and logged more minutes (1,738:55) than any goalie in the Western Conference.
Even so, Music City's Masked Man is not totally happy with his performance so far. Rinne was recently pulled from two straight games, but had bounced back with three wins in a row going into Thursday's matchup against the Phoenix Coyotes.
"I have been inconsistent at times and I can do better," he said.
Posting impressive stats and vying for postseason honors is nothing new for Rinne, but doing it in a compressed schedule featuring nine back-to-back sets is a new challenge. So far, he's passing the test.
"It's been challenging more so mentally," he said. "Just saying focused on each game. Physically, I have felt good every game. I'm managing my energy levels and being smart about how I spend days off. But it has, for sure, been a different animal."
Rinne said one of the biggest challenges is the lack of practice time, something that is typically a cornerstone of his famously blue-collar approach.
The 6-foot-5 veteran has had to substitute practices with more off-ice sessions with goalie coach Mitch Korn.
"Mitch has been a big help," Rinne said. "We always talk about every game, all the good things and all the not-so-good things. We go over a lot of video, every touch of the puck or scoring chance, and break it down. You don't have a lot of time to work on as many goalie drills, but we do maybe one or two quick ones and just try not to develop bad habits."
Rinne appreciates being in the discussion for postseason honors but tries to keep it in perspective.
"I am not gonna lie," he said. "It is a great thing to be nominated the last two years for Vezina, but during the season I try not to pay any attention to that."
Instead, Rinne is focusing on improving what he sees as his two biggest flaws this season: consistency and shootouts. Rinne said he is disappointed with five shootout losses and his 18th-ranked .556 shootout save percentage.
"I've been probably trying too hard and have to focus on just having more fun and relax with it," Rinne said.
A part of his game he has improved this season is his puck-handling skills.
"As a goalie, you can help your defense so much by moving the puck," he said. "I try to be smart, try to make the safe and easy play in the way that Marty Brodeur does. He knows exactly where his guys are and helps his D a lot. You have to not overdo it."
Rinne said his primary goal is helping his team earn a Stanley Cup Playoff spot and make a run for the championship, but there is another achievement that has so far eluded him: the Olympics. Rinne was left off Finland's 2010 Olympic team, with Miikka Kiprusoff, Antero Nittymaki and Niklas Backstrom the country's goaltenders.
"It is one of my goals to play on that team, but there are a lot of good Finnish goalies out there," Rinne said. "So I have to make sure I play very well between now and then to get my chance."
Safe to say, the self-described "terrible" singer has a better chance of earning that spot than winning a reality show.
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