As another day dawns on 35-year-old Pekka Rinne, he inches closer and closer away from the prime of his career. That hasn’t stopped him this season; the Finnish netminder is posting a save percentage of .927%, his best since the 2010-11 season. With the lingering hip injury and ensuing botched surgery far behind him, Rinne is playing some of the best hockey of his career.
However, goalie burnout seems to be a well-established problem for many goalies in this league. The victims are numerous: Miika Kiprusoff and, much more recently, Cam Talbot are prime examples of how playing around 70 games in a season can exhaust you. Rinne himself has succumbed to this in the past, having played 64 games or more in a season four times, peaking at 72 games in a single season.
Thankfully, Juuse Saros has evolved into a reliable backup option for Head Coach Peter Laviolette. Being bounced between the AHL and NHL seems to have gotten Saros the games he’s needed to develop while still performing well for the Predators. His save percentage of .924% as a backup is certainly a luxury in this league. He’s lightened Rinne’s workload this season, as Rinne has started 41 games while Saros has started in 15.
Considering concerns about burnout and the ability for Saros to step in, which games should Rinne and Saros each start in the rest of the season?
Pekka Rinne 2/22 vs. SJ, 2/27 @ WPG
Juuse Saros - 2/25 vs. STL
With Rinne taking the game agains San Jose, Saros has the opportunity to be sent down to Milwaukee to get more games in. He could potentially start twice for Milwaukee, once against Manitoba and then against Texas. With this plan for the rest of the month, Saros gets two starts against two AHL teams and then a strong St. Louis club. Meanwhile, Rinne gets to be well rested for some tough opponents. Considering how tight the playoff seeding race could get in late March and early April, there’s no time like now to give Rinne more rest.
Games started count:
Rinne - 2 (45 total)
Saros - 1 (17 total)
Pekka Rinne - 3/1 @ EDM, 3/4 @COL, 3/6 vs. DAL, 3/10 vs. NJD, 3/13 vs. WPG, 3/16 @COL, 3/19 @ BUF, 3/22 vs. TOR, 3/25 @ WPG, 3/27 vs. MIN, 3/31 vs. BUF
Juuse Saros - 3/2 @ VAN, 3/8 vs. ANA, 3/15 @ARI, 3/24 @ MIN, 3/29 vs. SJS
The month of March has three back-to-backs, beginning right away visiting Edmonton and Vancouver on March 1-2. The next back-to-back is on March 15-16 as the Predators travel to Arizona and Colorado, while their final back-to-back is on March 24-25 away at Minnesota and Winnipeg.
Rinne takes the Edmonton game because, let’s be honest, he basically owns Edmonton at this point in time (8-0-0 in last eight games with three shutouts), so Saros gets the nod against Vancouver. Saros then takes the Arizona game while Rinne faces Colorado. In the final back-to-back, the Predators will want to put their best foot forward in a huge game against Winnipeg. Accordingly, Saros starts against Minnesota.
Other than the back-to-backs, it’s all about picking the right spots for Saros to jump in and give Rinne a break.
Rinne - 11 (56 total)
Saros - 5 (22 total)
Pekka Rinne - 4/1 @ TBL, 4/3 @ FLA, 4/7 vs. CBJ
Juuse Saros - 4/5 @ WSH
April is a hard month to guess because the standings will dictate who plays. If there’s a large point cushion for the Predators, do they rest Rinne more before the playoffs? Do they play Saros the first two games and then Rinne the second two so he’s used to feeling the puck before the playoffs begin? If the playoff seeding race is tight, do they start Rinne every game? There are a lot of variables.
Regardless, I would be shocked if Rinne does not start against the Blue Jackets on the last game of the season. Head Coach Peter Laviolette had Poile send down Saros before the five-day break and played him the first game back instead of a rested Rinne. Why? He wanted a goalie in who had seen shots in the last few days. Laviolette will want Rinne the same way when the playoffs begin. It would accordingly be out of character for Rinne to not start against the Blue Jackets.
Rinne - 3 (59 total)
Saros - 1 (23 total)
Keeping Rinne under 60 games for the season should be the goal. Whether or not the Predators can create enough point separation to permit that is to be determined, and their recent stretch of play brought them closer to the pack. However, if they want to make another run to the Stanley Cup Final, keeping Rinne well rested is imperative.