I wrote before the season began on what we can expect this season from Pekka Rinne. Needless to say he’s performed beyond even the most avid fan’s expectations. His record is stellar at 35-9-4, his goals against average at 2.33 is second only to Tuuka Rask among starters with 40 or more starts, and his .927 save percentage is tied with the Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy for the league’s best. He’s in the discussion for the Vezina Trophy, made all the more impressive considering he’s 35 years old, with some in the hockey media signaling his demise just two years ago when he finished the season with a .908 save percentage.
Rinne’s conventional stats are worthy, but if we look below the surface, his fancy stats reflect the surface level results. He’s fifth in the league in 5 on 5 delta save percentage, or how he’s performing compared to his expected save percentage, is 1.16% above expected. That doesn’t sound like much on it’s own, but over Rinne’s 1126 shots against, that’s a difference of 18 goals allowed. He’s third in the league in high-danger save percentage, 85.5%, and he’s second in the league in goals saved above average, a number developed by Hockey Reference to compare how well a goalie is playing compared to a league average goalie. No matter the chosen stat, Rinne is performing among the leagues best. Another graphic from Cole Anderson at Crowd Scout Sports shows that, adjusting his performance for rebounds, he’s putting together an elite campaign.
Since the disappointment in last spring’s Stanley Cup Final, all eyes in Nashville have been focused on not only returning to the Final, but in parading the Stanley Cup down Broadway. Since Ryan Ellis returned from injury after the new year, the Predators are 19-4-4. Looking at the standings, the Nashville has a six-point edge on Winnipeg for the Central Division crown. With just 17 games left in the regular season, it’s time to focus on the second season.
With veteran goaltenders, it’s vital that a team manages their workload if they expect a Stanley Cup run. Anything short of that this year would be a disappointment for Nashville. If history is any guide Rinne’s regular season performance starts to tail off one his start totals creep into the 50’s. The graph below shows Pekka’s all-situation and 5 on 5 save percentage over his career. This season he started off red hot and it’s been a slow and ever so slight decline ever since.
Nashville is in a unique position in the league, one of just a handful of teams with a backup goaltender who’s performing at an above average level. Only using his 7-5-5 record, doesn’t tell the complete story. He started the season 0-3 after a rough opening month of the season that saw him give up 13 goals. His overtime record is just 2-5, which nobody has proven yet, that overtime results aren’t anything more than a coin flip proposition.
Saros’ fancy stats show a similar profile to Rinne’s. His goals prevented above average adjusted for rebounds mark puts him at a similar elite trajectory to Rinne, even after his rocky start as seen by the sharp dip in his first few starts.
His delta save percentage of 1.91 is better than Rinne’s mark of 1.16. His 80.9 high danger save percentage is in the league’s upper half and his GSAA is 8.68, an incredible number for a guy with just 18 starts. To put it another way, he saves one goal above the league average goalie for every 52 shots faced, the 5th best mark in the league. On a game to game basis there is no discernible drop off between Rinne and Saros, more impressive if we consider that of Saros’ starts, eight were on back to backs, and only six have taken place at Bridgestone.
Coach Laviolette would be wise to rest Rinne for the long playoff road ahead. Nashville has a six-point lead in the division and a four point lead for home ice advantage in the western conference. Rinne’s performance sees a deline toward the end of the season with overuse, and Saros is performing well enough as his backup that there wouldn’t be much of a difference in a small sample of just 17 games.
The question just over the horizon is, can Saros assume the responsibilities of a #1 netminder when Pekka declines to the point of replacement or retires? If this is the succession plan, which seems the case since none of the goalies in the pipeline look to have the chops of a starting NHL goalie, it would be better to make that determination now.
Which games should Saros start? Bobby wrote about this a couple weeks ago and had some accurate predictions so far, but let’s look at it again.
Of the remaining games, the Preds have three sets of back to backs. March 15th in Arizona and the 16th at Colorado; the 24th at Minnesota and 25th in Winnipeg and the 31st at home against Buffalo and April 1st at Tampa Bay. He should get the Arizona, Minnesota and Buffalo starts.
There is only one other game on the schedule against a team not currently fighting for a playoff spot, the March 19th game in Buffalo. Give Saros that start too. Rinne should be in net for the games against Winnipeg, Dallas and Anaheim, potential first and second round opponents. Saros can start game 82 against Columbus.
Games Rinne Should Start:
March 6th v Dallas, March 8th v Anaheim, March 13th v Winnipeg, March 16th @ Colorado, March 22nd v Toronto, March 25th @ Winnipeg, March 27th v Minnesota, March 29th v San Jose, April 1st @ Tampa Bay, April 5th @ Washington
Games Saros Should Start:
March 10th v New Jersey, March 15th @ Arizona, March 19th @ Buffalo, March 24th @ Minnesota, March 31st v Buffalo, April 3rd @ Florida, April 7th v Columbus.
A split such as listed above would put Rinne at 58 starts for the season, reducing his workload going into the playoffs, and give the Predators the best chance at post season success— A rested goalie with the ability to win a series himself along with home ice advantage in the playoffs.
How Many Starts Should Saros Get in the Regular Seasion
This poll is closed
3 or Less
11 or More