Just over a year ago, Pekka had arthroscopic surgery to clean up a hip issue that had been plaguing him through the end of the lockout-shortened 2013 season. The initial recovery was set at four months, giving him plenty of time to get ready for the season. While this caused a great deal of concern among many of us due to his importance to the team, as well as the lack of a proven backup, Pekka was indeed ready to go to start the season. It wouldn't last, though, as a 2-0 loss to Minnesota (one of which was an empty-netter) would be his last game for a looooong time. Two days later, it was reported that Rinne would miss 4 weeks with a post-surgical infection. Then reports started trickling out that the infection was much more serious (E. Coli!!!), likely keeping him out through the end of 2013. He was finally cleared to return to on-ice activities in early 2014, and following a brief stint in Milwaukee, Pekka returned to net in Nashville on March 4th against the Penguins. There were some ugly moments (5 goals against vs. Chicago and Edmonton, as well as SEVEN at Dallas), but we also got two shutouts, showing flashes of what a healthy Pekka can mean for this team.
You could easily go with the shutout a couple of weeks prior in Chicago, but for me, this is it. Phoenix had everything to play for in this game, and Rinne's shutout pretty much put an end to their playoff chances. It was also his 162nd win, giving him the all-time franchise lead. And most importantly, free donuts for everybody!
The Road Ahead
Forgive me for being Captain Obvious, but Pekka's ability to show up healthy and ready to go at the start of training camp will be key to this team's success next year. There's no reason to believe this won't be the case, but if any of you see him around town ordering a rare hamburger, slap it out of his hand. E.Coli is a harsh mistress.
OTF Staff Grades
I gave an incomplete because I just didn't see enough to make a serious judgement. I'm inclined to disregard the "bad" games as part of getting back into game shape after recovering from a serious surgery, then having to recover from the recovery.