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Carter Hutton's rare starts making unexceptional play more glaring

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The back up's season has not gone according to plan.

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

As the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks skated off the Honda Center ice on Sunday night, Carter Hutton found himself on the losing end of the ice once again.

It's been a rather unfortunate turn of events for Hutton, who blossomed into what seemed like a more than capable goaltender at the end of last year. He took the brunt of the starts when Pekka Rinne was lost to injury, and the hope was that this year, in a less pronounced role, he could provide solid relief for a rejuvenated Rinne.

So far that hasn't been the case.

Hutton has lost each of the five starts that he's made and, while wins aren't a great way to judge a goalie's worth, it's hard to fathom him not being able to scrape one together the way this team has played. The Predators are average at suppressing shots, but excellent at keeping the puck in the opponent's end; moreover, Hutton isn't terrible when he's playing. Of the 20 goalies that have played between 200 and 500 5v5 minutes, Hutton is 13th with a 91.18 Sv%. So not greatest, but it is worth noting he has the third lowest ice time in that group. Still, not a single victory for him to hang his hat on.

Now, he may just be a victim of bad circumstance. For instance, this weekend Rinne and the team allow three goals in the final few minutes of the game against Los Angeles, but somehow manage to win in overtime. The following night, another (much smaller) lead is blown, but this time they lose in a shootout. One bounce and his situation looks less dire than it does now.

Over his career, Hutton has started 38 games but managed a quality start (games where the goalie has a save percentage greater than league average) in just 17 of those. That's a QS% of .447, meaning he's given his team less than a coin flip's chance at a win. Ten of those have been classified as Really Bad Starts, or starts where a goalie's save percentage is less than 85%.

In fairness, 38 starts is not a lot to go on, especially considering 33 of them came last year. But only two of his five starts this year have been quality: his first two of the year. His first in Chicago was ended by a shorthanded Jonathan Toews breakaway, and his second against Winnipeg where penalty trouble doomed the Preds early.

Thanks to Rinne's domination and the spacing of Nashville's schedule, it hasn't allowed for many starts for Hutton. When you can count his appearances on one hand, it makes the scrutiny that much bigger. Unfortunately, that may continue. Check out the upcoming schedule for the rest of this month and next month:

Four sets of back-to-back games, but mostly evenly spaced contests resembling what we saw in November. There's even a week off in between games at the end of this month. How many of those do you think Hutton is going to start? Peter Laviolette and the coaching staff have already shown they aren't afraid to turn to Rinne twice in a row when the stakes are high. Despite 65 minutes of work, a shootout, and stopping 38 of the 42 shots he faced in Chicago, Rinne got the call against St. Louis a night later.

It's possible the situation may have been different had the Predators defeated the Blackhawks. Either way, it paid off but that should not be a go-to move for Laviolette. A few season ago, some of the great minds at Broad Street Hockey took a look into gathering data about goalies. Eric T. showed how much worse goalies play on the second game of a back-to-back when they played the previous night. Using the same parameters, here is the data for the second game of back-to-backs throughout Rinne's career:

Games Started Shots Against Saves Save Percentage
Played Previous Game 29 778 703 0.903
Rested Previous Game 13 411 384 0.934

Take these with a grain of salt because the sample size is small, but there's a stark difference. The data supports the hypothesis that rested goaltenders play better. Basically, split the games between the two from here on out.

All this is to say that should the coaching staff heed the stats, Hutton should get as least seven more starts this year, minimum. Ideally, Hutton would suit up for 15-20 total games, which still allows Rinne to be a workhorse, but not start 70 games. But at this point, how much faith does the coaching staff have that Hutton gives them the best chance to win on any given night? He finds himself in a catch-22: he can't make a good impression if he's not playing, but he's not playing because the mistakes he's made look bigger. Realistically, he's a better goaltender than we've seen this year, but by how much is still up in the air.

No one expects Carter Hutton to be Pekka Rinne, but turning in a quality performance after spending days or weeks on the bench is part of a backup goaltender's job. A solid reliever is key to the longterm success of any club, and he needs to get back on track.  If he can't inspire confidence soon, he may not get many more chances.