Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE
The Nashville Predators aren't shy about the fact that they build their team on a foundation of outstanding defense & goaltending, and Pekka Rinne has established himself as the franchise cornerstone for years to come.
Rinne took on a massive workload last season, starting 72 games (second only to Jonas Hiller of Anaheim, with 73) a healthy jump up from the 64 games he started in 2010-2011. He handled that extra duty well, however, finishing 7th in the NHL in save percentage, and earning himself a trip to Las Vegas as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goalie (an honor which ended up going to Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers).
In the playoffs, he was solid against Detroit (holding them to 2 or fewer goals in 4 of the 5 games) but faltered in the opening games of the Phoenix series as the Preds fell into a 2-0 hole. He was hardly the reason Nashville lost that series, however.
The loss of Ryan Suter places an even greater burden on Pekka's shoulders, as the Preds were on the wrong end of the Shots On Goal count more often than not even with Suter in the lineup. There's no doubt that his head and heart are 100% committed to carrying the load, as he signed a 7-year $49 million contract extension with the Preds on his birthday in 2011. When uncertainty swirled around the future leadership core of the team, he signed on the dotted line and removed all doubts early on.
The hopeful sign going forward with Rinne is that he has set a platform at which he's performed for the last few seasons now, so there's more comfort projecting him to put up similar results. When a guy performs at a particular level for a long time and then has one breakout year (hello, Brian Elliott) you're just waiting for the rubber band to snap things back into shape.
If you look at all NHL goalies with at least 100 games played, Peks stands 4th in career save percentage at .921. Yes, a large factor at work here is the trend over the last 20 years towards higher save percentages, but setting aside the all-time argument, we can certainly say that Peks is among a very small group of current goalies who you can count on to deliver superior results year after year.
During the Lockout, he went over to the KHL and played for Dinamo Minsk, with less than spectacular results.
Can Peks rise to the greater challenge ahead and bring home the Vezina Trophy this summer?