Carter Hutton, the under-appreciated, yet plucky 30 year old goalie from Thunder Bay, Ontario -- that of the home for former Nashville captain Greg Johnson -- has quietly contributed one of his best starts for the Predators in his third season with the organization.
During the 2013-14 season, Hutton started the year with a 7-3-1 record including 38 of 39 shots stopped in relief action. After a bacterial infection sidelined starting netminder Pekka Rinne for four months of action, Hutton, alongside Marek Mazanec, filled in starting duties for Rinne until his return -- posting a cumulative 20-11-4 record by the end of the regular season.
"I didn't expect to play that many games," said Hutton. "I didn't really have a lot of doubt in myself. I trusted in my play and I trusted in our team. I played well enough to help and our team played well enough in front of me to get that record. It was a different year with [Rinne] going down, you can never really prepare for that, but that's the sport we play."
There were holes, however. Holes in Hutton's game; ones that were easily distinguishable from a veteran goaltender with years of NHL experience. It was Hutton's first year in the NHL and, especially with the 20-win season he supplied Nashville, he was given a very long leash.
Last year, Hutton found himself more exposed than he had ever been. A healthy Rinne cut into the playing time he previously saw, and suited up for only 17 starts and finishing with a 6-7-4 record. Well shy of his previous 20-win season, Hutton was the victim of intermittent starts.
To accentuate that, consider how Hutton started and finished the 2014-15 season: his first five games and last three games combined for an 0-6-2 record. In between, he posted a 6-1-2 record. Of the latter, all nine of his games were separated by a grand total of 37 days -- the longest span coming from a 14 day lapse between the 8th and 22nd of February, 2015.
His losing record? 126 days total space in between games. That's nearly four times the length of separation from his 6-1-2 record.
"I fell into a role where I was playing once every three weeks, sometimes four weeks," Hutton noted. "[Rinne] was phenomenal, but I only played 18 games -- and a bulk of those came when [Rinne] got hurt. You eliminate those eight games I think I played when he was hurt and it was pretty spread out for the other 10 starts. I think that was an adjustment.
"[The 2013-13 season] was the first time in my career that I wasn't a true backup. I came from playing 60 games, high 50's, in the [AHL]. Then in my first year in the NHL I played 40, kind of getting a busier workload. Goaltending is a rhythm sometimes. I thought last year was definitely a learning experience for me. I took a lot away from it that I've tried to carry into this season."
Statistically, the numbers matched up to the major swing in play from Hutton's first season with the Predators to his second. Via war-on-ice.com, Hutton's overall and adjusted save percentages took a hit across all situations -- most noticeably during even strength moments. His low and medium-danger save percentages, two statistics that measure normal and weaker chances at the net, both dropped abound three percent each.
Interestingly, his high-danger save percentage increased by nearly seven percent -- attributed to the increase of high-danger chances allowed by the Predators while Hutton was in net, facing 106 high-danger shots in 18 total games compared to 181 in 40 games just one season prior to that.
"Analytics are a very important part of the game now and I'm not against that, goalies are driven by numbers," Hutton commented. "Sometimes, there's going to be a weird [goal] and there's sometimes where you'd like to have one back. That's the nature of goaltending. You can't control the box score and the way it looks. It's easy to watch a game from a box score and make an assessment.
Harry How/Getty Images
This season he's performing much like he did his first year with the franchise, but with a more seasoned approach.
Through five games, Hutton has posted a 3-1-1 record, though his raw numbers have a bit of a ways to go to get to the ones he produced over 40 games in 2013-14. Although his starts aren't compressed to the nature of when he posted his successful numbers last year, they're still somewhat closer than the 126 days separating eight games.
"We kind of always say you don't lose talent overnight. I'm the same goalie that can win 20 games in this league," said Hutton. "It's just a matter of my role here, and the team behind Pekka, is to play. The things I've learned from last year is to be able to get in there and adjust and give our team a chance to win. Sometimes my job is just to give [Rinne] the night off and to help our team try to win hockey games."
Think about that mindset, though. A backup goaltender is exactly that: the guy behind the starting goaltender. Most backups normally play somewhere between 20 and 30 games a year. Hutton has played outside that spectrum over the last two seasons. While he's going about the right way, there's no question that last year's difficulties had to aggravate him at some point.
"I think it's more of a mental thing more than a physical thing," Hutton said. "We're going to get the reps, you're going to get the work. I think last year sometimes when I played once every three weeks or whatever it was, depending on the schedule, I would really almost kind of get...if I missed a start, maybe I was supposed to start and it wouldn't happen, I would get more upset. I think this year I have a better mindset of controlling what I can.
"There's enough pressure in what we do. We don't need to add anything else to it. I know there is the outside factors -- the fans, the media, whatever -- but there's also a lot of good things too, right? For every 10 good things you read or somebody says, the one bad one sits."
Which also explains Hutton's lack of social media presence so far this season. He's hand only a handful of tweets from his CarterHutton account via Twitter -- nearly invisible for the most part. Yet, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Hutton's has received plenty of negative backlash from the collective Predators fan base, especially last season during his losing stretch.
"I try to not really look at it anymore. There's really no value to it. Like I said, the management and powers that be have a lot more control than somebody behind a cell phone or a computer," said Hutton.
The end all, be all for Hutton runs along the same course as it always has since he signed with Nashville. Whenever Rinne has been down with injury, Hutton has turned in a handful of fantastic performances.
If the organization can provide him with more consistent looks in net stretched out over a lesser amount of time, he could easily be worth considering when it comes to whether or not the Predators opt to re-sign him next season.
"He's been great. He's given us an opportunity to win every game and has won some of the games," said head coach Peter Laviolette. "He's been sharp in practice. I think he handles his role really well. He's going to get some starts this month and we continue to rely on him."
January is a busy month for Nashville, as is February. With the All-Star break just about three weeks away, it'll be imperative that the Predators offer some measure of consistency with their goaltending. If that's throwing Hutton more than a handful of starts over the next month, then so be it.
There's no question that he's given Nashville a chance to win every outing this year.