As is the case with just about everything nowadays, training camp sessions are a bit different from the norm.
The Predators don't have upward of 60 participants on their roster to choose from. There won't be six preseason games for players to make an impression. Some guys may not even get a look in the single exhibition contest Nashville is scheduled to play against Dallas on July 30 in Edmonton.
This version of Predators Training Camp Presented by Vanderbilt Health may provide more certainty than ever before when it comes to the final lineup the team will use for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Qualifier against the Arizona Coyotes.
[View photo gallery from July 15 Training Camp Session]
But one decision that will need to be made sometime in the next two-and-a-half weeks is who will lead the Preds to the ice on Aug. 2.
Nashville goaltenders Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros figure to have just about an equal shot to get that starting nod when the time comes. If the younger of the two Finns ends up hearing his number called, it would certainly be worth noting.
Rinne has started 89 consecutive playoff games for the Preds, the fourth-longest streak by a single goaltender in NHL history. On the contrary, Saros has made appearances in the postseason, but he's never earned the start over Rinne - nor has anyone else in the last decade.
But for all the talk on the outside of the pending decision, the feeling on the inside remains the same - there is no wrong choice on picking a puck stopper.
"We've said prior to coming into camp - and with those two I know there's a lot of questions about who's going to be the starter and who's not - and as I told our team, and I've told Peks and Juice, let's take this day by day," Preds Head Coach John Hynes said. "Let's build our game, build our habits, build our stamina. Let's get more and more competitive here as camp continues to go on, and I think that performance will be the separator. If you're in a deep playoff run or you're going to have to get through a best-of-5 series with a back-to-back [set of games], you need to have two goaltenders that can help you win games. Our objective is to get them both ready to be guys that can help us win."
Saros and Rinne did just that for Nashville at different points throughout the 2019-20 regular season, and while Rinne saw a majority of the action in the early going, Saros was called upon more often as the months progressed. Included in those starts for Saros was the second-longest shutout streak in franchise history that concluded just before the pause.
Moments like that have caused the questions to be asked, but the two parties who matter most in all of this won't allow them to become an issue.
In fact, the relationship between Rinne and Saros is stronger than it's ever been, and that's saying something for the pair of Finns who have often been jokingly referred to as father and son.
"I couldn't really ask any better guy to be a goalie partner with me," Saros said of Rinne. "Whatever it is, off the ice, on the ice, he helps me. It's always fun to come to the rink, and we're good friends outside of hockey too. Especially now during Phase 2 and Phase 3, he's been cooking a lot of dinner for us Finns, and we're playing some Call of Duty together, so we have a lot of fun together."
Video: Saros talks training camp, relationship with Rinne
"Juice was so strong [at the end of this season]... and that was pretty much the first time in a long time when I was mostly watching games from the bench at the end of the season, but I had no problem," Rinne said. "I try not to take anything for granted and just try to give my all and do my best and see what happens. But, like everybody knows, we have a great relationship, but it's a great competition at the same time, and we both understand that and we'll see how it plays out. The biggest thing from both perspectives is the only thing we want to do is help the team, no matter which guy is playing."
Hynes hadn't been on the job long when he also took note of the special bond between the two goaltenders. That relationship isn't something that's prevalent on every team around the NHL, either. For that reason, and so much more, the bench boss is thankful for what he has in the net.
"I haven't seen anything like it in my career," Hynes said of the relationship between Rinne and Saros. "My first couple times on the bench when there's a timeout and one of them comes back to the bench, they always kind of flip each other a water bottle, they give each other high fives and they just communicate. When Juice was playing a lot down the stretch, Peks and his support of him on the bench when he came over to him, he would just almost look at him like, 'Keep going, I'm proud of you.'
"It's a pretty special relationship that both of them have, the respect that Juice has for Pekka and the respect that Pekka has for Juice. But the way that they work with each other and push each other is pretty impressive."
Ultimately, one goaltender will be wearing a cap on the bench instead of his mask in the net in a few weeks' time. How things play out over that span will ultimately bring that determination to light, and while both men undoubtedly want to be the one to receive that first start, they know the good of the team comes first.
That mindset is why they work so well together, why they can't even pass each other by on the ice without a stick tap to the leg pads or a bump of the gloves. And no matter who starts this uniquely different postseason for the Preds, the other will be serving as their biggest supporter, just like always.
"The No. 1 thing for us is going to be at the end of this, these three weeks and training camp, we're going to have to make a decision," Hynes said. "Hopefully, one of the two guys will make it for us in a positive way."
"We're fortunate in our organization to have amazing goalies," Preds Associate Captain Ryan Ellis said. "Since Day One that I've been here, it's always been that way. The success Peks has had speaks for itself, and Juice has been unbelievable these last couple years coming in as a younger guy and really establishing himself. We're blessed to have two great guys. To us, I don't think it matters [who starts]. We trust both and we're lucky to have them."