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Life Without Pekka Rinne

by Stu Grimson / Nashville Predators

The play looked harmless enough right?

Pekka Rinne’s collision with Chris Higgins of the Vancouver Canucks was accidental and far from violent. Moreover, it appeared that Rinne felt good enough to plead with Andy Hosler, Predators head athletic trainer, to allow him to remain and close out the lead over the visiting Canucks.

No such luck. The Predators announced today that Rinne will be out of action through the All-Star Weekend with a sprained knee. The goaltender will be re-evaluated after the Jan. 24-25 festivities and is expected to miss the next three to five weeks.

Saying Rinne has played a key role in the team’s turnaround is a point too blatant for even Captain Obvious to make. There is no doubt, taking the hottest goaltender in the free world out of the mix should be a blow to any team’s fortunes. Having said that, there are a few points to be made to give the fan base reason to be a little more optimistic.

Carter Hutton:

First, Carter Hutton, who is sure to shoulder most of the load, is a better goaltender than when he first signed with the Predators in the summer of 2013. During Rinne’s 51-game absence last year, Hutton pulled himself up by the bootstraps and got to a point where he was turning in reliable minutes on a nightly basis. Don’t forget Hutton won 20 games last year.

Better Personnel:

Second, this year’s Predators are sharply distinct from last year’s version in that they simply defend better. With the emergence of Ekholm and Ellis (currently injured) as a solid second pairing and a significant upgrade at forward (see: James Neal, Filip Forsberg, Mike Ribeiro, Olli Jokinen, Calle Jarnkrok, etc.), this group is stingier than perhaps any team the Predators have iced in the past.

Stingier Defense:

Last year, the Preds allowed 2.84 goals against per game, good for 23rd overall. This year, they lead the League with a miserly 2.17 goals per game. That’s an improvement of more than half a goal per game. Yes, Rinne is a big part of why this club gives the opposition very little. However, even Rinne is quick to say that the team in front of him is an important part of why he’s on pace to post the best season of his career.

Improved Offense:

Lastly, the above-mentioned upgrade at forward is starting to really to bear fruit. The Predators were winning early in the year but this new high-powered offense we’d heard so much about was hard to spot. Through October and November, the club was still scoring at a fairly modest rate; the first 20-25 games are peppered with 3-2 and 2-1 games.  However, over the last 15 or so games, the new parts are fully integrated and the new identity seems to be taking root; fans are seeing more three and four goal spreads in the Predators favor.

So, Hutton’s a better keeper, the team defends better and it scores more. Does that mean Rinne’s absence will go unnoticed? Uh, not a chance. But the elements I just mentioned, plus the fact that a portion of his time off falls over All-Star Break, should take some of the sting off of this setback.

You were promised an exciting ride…not one without an occasional dip in the road.  

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