A few years ago, Nashville coach Barry Trotz and the team's celebrated goaltending coach, Mitch Korn, were watching one of the organization's prospect camps. In goal stood 2008 seventh-round draft pick Anders Lindback.
"We looked at each other and said, 'He looks just like Pekka,'" Trotz said, comparing Lindback to the team's current No. 1 goalie, Pekka Rinne. "'He moves just looks like Pekka.' It was funny because we looked at each other and we just started chuckling because we were both thinking the same thing."
Since Lindback, 22, seemingly came out of nowhere to land the Predators' back-up job -- and, for the time being, the No. 1 job with Rinne out for a few weeks with a left knee injury -- the comparisons to Rinne are hard to shake.
Both are Scandinavian -- Lindback is a Swede, Rinne a Finn -- and both are extremely tall and lanky. Lindback is 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds, while Rinne is listed at 6-5 and 207. They also both were late-round picks, as Rinne was selected in the eighth round in 2004.
Dan Ellis, earning a sizable multi-year contract last season and allowing the Predators to trade Ellis' rights to Montreal following the season; he eventually signed in Tampa Bay.
Meanwhile, Lindback has been pressed into service much earlier and more often than the Predators likely anticipated. Rinne injured himself in the team's season opener against Anaheim and Lindback had to play the final 17 minutes, stopping all seven shots he faced to preserve a 4-1 victory.
Four days later, with Rinne still out, Lindback was thrown into the fire in a road game at the United Center against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. He made 25 saves in a 3-2 victory.
"It was a great experience," Lindback said. "Packed crowd and good national anthem there. I really enjoyed it. Such a fast and fun game to play. You have to be ready all the time. Back home it feels like sometimes you can get a little bit lost, even if (the puck is) in the (offensive) zone because it's so wide. The angles and players are shooting from everywhere here. You really have to be on top of the game all of the time."
So far, Lindback has been on top of his game all of the time. He is 5-1-2, compared to Rinne's 8-7-4 mark. Their save percentages are almost identical: Lindback is at .919, Rinne at .918. Rinne does have a better goals-against average at 2.38 to Lindback's 2.64.
On Wednesday, Lindback defeated Detroit 3-2, giving Nashville only its 10th win ever against its Central Division foe at Joe Louis Arena. Since Rinne went out the most recent time (he missed three games following the season opener), Lindback is 2-0-1 entering Saturday's game against Florida at Bridgestone Arena. The relatively seamless transition has allowed the Preds to maintain a hot streak, as they have lost only once in regulation in their last eight (4-1-3).
"I think he's been fine," Trotz said Monday when asked about Lindback's performance in a 5-2 win against Carolina last Saturday. "I think he showed a lot of poise and composure. When you get the start and you know you're going to have to run with the ball for a little bit and the first shot goes in, that can get you rattled ...
"He's got a good temperament and just like anything, he's a little rusty, too. He's had a lot of time off just because Peks has been playing most of the games."
Considering Nashville entered the offseason unsure of what they were going to do for a back-up goalie, Lindback has been a bit of a revelation. Trotz said at the start of training camp the battle for the back-up spot was very much up for grabs.
"Our pro scouts had seen him (in Sweden), felt pretty confident that he was pretty close to being ready," Trotz said. "He's 22. It's not like he's a 19-year-old. Many times there's too much hype on an 18- or 19-year-old. This is a good League. They're not playing with 17-year-olds anymore. … Knowing that he played in the (Swedish) Elite League a couple of years, we knew he was probably a little bit more ready. We discussed all summer our goaltending situation. It was a hot topic what we were going to do with our back-up.
"When it was all said and done, we believe in the people we got and if not -- and if they can't get it done -- we'll have to try to seek another route, if you will. We felt pretty good after the rookie camp and the start of the main camp where some of the scrimmages were that we might be OK after that situation."
Trotz said Nashville often has found goalies -- or other players -- when injuries arise. Tomas Vokoun earned the top goalie job with Mike Dunham constantly plagued by groin injuries. Chris Mason began on the road to becoming a No. 1 goalie when Vokoun went down with a blood disorder on the eve of the playoffs in 2006. Now, the Preds are learning what Lindback can do because of Rinne's injury.
"Peks goes down with an injury and Anders has to go right into Chicago and play against Washington and teams that are the best this League has to offer in many cases and he did very well," Trotz said of that initial win and overtime loss. "So that gives us a look into the future. It gives us a better game plan for the rest of the season. It's not all on Pekka and it gives us time not to rush back Pekka. If we were 0-3-5 or something like that, or 0-5-3, we'd probably be in a different situation."
Lindback credited the ease of his transition to the NHL to his goalie coach back home and to Korn, who has been in Nashville since the franchise moved there, and previously worked with Dominik Hasek in Buffalo.
Off the ice, fellow Swede Patric Hornqvist, the team's leading scorer last season, helped Lindback adjust to life in the United States. Lindback lived with Hornqvist to start the season, but now Lindback has moved into his own home. Prior to camp, the two had met only once casually at a meeting for the Swedish national team. Hornqvist said Lindback is "always laughing and a great dude."
With most goalies seeming to fall either into the super-intense camp or the super-relaxed camp, Lindback seems to fall into the latter, like any "great dude" would.
"I have a really hard time to get nervous and that might be a good thing," Lindback said. "I don't remember the last time I got nervous, but I just get excited and try to do my best every day."