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Rinne, Saros will vie to be Predators' No. 1 goalie in Qualifier

'A bit of a competition' looms before facing Coyotes, Hynes says

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros will have an equal opportunity to earn the No. 1 goalie job for the Nashville Predators during training camp in preparation for their Stanley Cup Qualifier series against the Arizona Coyotes, coach John Hynes said.

"The player that's playing the best or seems more ready, has the better camp ... that's the guy that you have to go with, so it's going to be a bit of a competition," Hynes told ESPN 102.5 The Game on Monday. "I think the good thing is that we feel both guys can help us and, in some of these series and playoffs, sometimes you're going to need both guys.

"If we wind up playing exhibition games (during training camp), you'd like to give them both an opportunity to play, but a lot of it is going to be determined on how they come back to camp and how they perform in camp."

Saros took over as the No. 1 goalie after Rinne struggled this season. Saros was 12-5-1 with a 2.22 goals-against average and .934 save percentage, including a .940 even-strength save percentage, in his last 20 games (18 starts) before the NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. The 25-year-old finished 17-12-4 with a 2.70 GAA, .914 save percentage and four shutouts in 40 games (34 starts).

Rinne, who had been Nashville's No. 1 goalie since the 2008-09 season, was 4-6-1 with a 3.59 GAA and .895 save percentage (.904 even-strength save percentage) in his last 11 starts. The 37-year-old finished 18-14-4 with a 3.17 GAA, an .895 save percentage and three shutouts in 36 games (35 starts).

Video: NSH@CHI: Rinne denies Toews, Caggiula late in the 3rd

Rinne has played in 89 straight Stanley Cup Playoff games for the Predators since 2010 and is 45-44 with a 2.49 GAA, .914 save percentage and five shutouts. He won the Vezina Trophy voted as the top goalie in the NHL in 2017-18, when he was 42-13-4 with a 2.31 GAA, and.927 save percentage, and tied Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy for the NHL lead with eight shutouts.

But in the past two playoffs, Rinne is 9-10 with a 3.08 GAA and .904 save percentage.

"I would say this, prior to the pause, Saros was hot," Hynes said. "Pekka didn't play as much, but to be very honest, it wasn't so much that Pekka wasn't playing well, it was that Saros was playing so well that it didn't make ... everyone saw it. Pekka saw it, the team saw it, and [Saros] was in such a groove that it only made sense to be able to continue to play him. He was finding ways to win games.

"We've talked to [Rinne and Saros] over this break, and I think both players have to come back with the mindset that they want to have the starting job. I don't think it's probably smart or fair going into training camp to say that one guy is ahead of the other only because we don't know how they're going to come back. Are they going to be ready? Is one guy going to be playing really well and one guy's not? We believe both guys can help us win, but it's going to be a bit of a competition."

The NHL allowed voluntary, limited small-group workouts at team facilities starting June 8 in Phase 2 of the Return to Play Plan. Phase 3, which is training camp for the 24 teams that will resume play, will begin July 10 provided that medical and safety conditions allow and the NHL and NHL Players' Association have reached an agreement on resuming play (Phase 4).

The qualifiers will have the top four teams in each conference, based on regular-season points percentage, play a round-robin to determine seeding. The other eight teams in each conference will be paired in four best-of-5 series, with the winners advancing to play the four round-robin teams in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Video: NSH@MTL: Saros denies Hudon from in front of the net

Nashville (35-26-8, .565 points percentage) will be the sixth seed in the Western Conference Qualifiers and play the 11th-seeded Arizona Coyotes (33-29-8, .529 points percentage).

The start date and hub cities -- one for the 12 Western Conference teams and one for the 12 Eastern teams -- for Phase 4 have not been determined.

Hynes, who was 16-11-1 after replacing Peter Laviolette as Predators coach Jan. 7, said he believes goalie play will be the most important area for every team in the qualifiers.

"I think the team that gets goaltending right away [has an advantage]," Hynes said. "It'll be four months off before a training camp and maybe an exhibition game, maybe two, we don't know. It's going to be a little bit of hyperactivity, a lot of intensity. The team that gets goaltending early in this to allow their team to get up and running, get some confidence, and get the team better to battle is going to be really important."

Hynes also listed conditioning, special teams and that group capable of committing to each other as crucial areas of focus.

"It's a different thing for players now; they've got to leave their families, go to a hub city," Hynes said. "Families aren't going to be part of it. You're not coming home after games, so this is all about the team, it's all about the Nashville Predators and playing for the guy next to you. It's also playing for their families and how do we incorporate this to commit to the level you need to commit to win in the playoffs." 

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