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2018-19 Nashville Predators Position Preview: Goaltenders

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It’s Pekka Rinne’s net, but a changing of the guard is coming.

NHL: Preseason-Tampa Bay Lightning at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve read any of my goaltending articles before, you know I spend a lot of time praising the performance of Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros. This season, we have a better picture of what the future looks like for Nashville’s goaltending. I wrote about Rinne, Saros, and the future Nashville netminders in August.

Without running the risk of repeating nearly everything that we have said about Rinne and Saros, here’s a quick overview of the Finnish “father and son” duo who keep Nashville’s net locked down.

Pekka Rinne:

Last year’s goaltending preview looked a whole lot like this year’s preview. However, Pekka Rinne is no longer without accolades, having brought home the 2018 Vezina Trophy. After 2016-17’s monster playoff run, we saw some wildly inconsistent playoff games from Rinne in 2018. We don’t have to rehash his playoff performance.

Here are some of Rinne’s highlights from last season:

The fact remains that Rinne is an elite goaltender. His regular season numbers were incredible: in 59 games, he went 42-13-4. He posted a .927 sv% last season, a career second-best.

Nashville fans expect big games out of Rinne when he is in net. I do think he started a few too many games last season, ultimately affecting his playoff performance. Saros should probably get 30-35 starts this season. Rinne’s playoff performance in 2019 could very well be determined by how rested he is. As many have said before, the crease is still Rinne’s.

I’d expect Rinne to play 50-55 games this season. I think we will see around 53 from the elder Finn this season.

One of my favorite things about Rinne is his black hole of a glove. He seems to swallow up shots from nearly anywhere on ice in that glove. He’s also been known to make some “monster block” saves, prompting dance sessions in Bridgestone.

Rinne did appear more positionally sound last season. He was less prone to being incredibly out of position and seemed to be a little more technical in his movements in the crease. He made fewer of the big moves in net that have traditionally caused him trouble. Those offseason goaltending tweaks helped Rinne post those incredible numbers.

Here’s one of my favorite saves from last season. You can’t forget the Rinne Knob:

Will Coach Laviolette rest Rinne down the stretch so he’s more rested for the playoffs? How will he handle poor performance from Rinne in the playoffs? None of us want to see Rinne yanked from the net during a playoff game, so perhaps more rest is key for him as we head toward the spring of 2019.

Juuse Saros:

This season is a big one for Juuse Saros. After signing a sweet contract extension over the summer, Saros looks ready to prove that he’s up to the challenge of inheriting the net from Rinne.

What we’ve seen of Saros has been stellar. He often gets the second game of back-to-back contests, which is no easy feat for any goaltender. The below graphic shows Saros’s incredible performance in back-to-back games.

Here’s what Saros’s starts looked like last season alongside Rinne’s:

Rinne’s icetime is shown in red, while Saros’s is shown in black.
Micah Blake McCurdy/@IneffectiveMath, hockeyviz.com

Saros’s transition to North American ice has been anything but ordinary. Originally tabbed as a backup to Marek Mazanec in Milwaukee in 2015-16, Saros quickly saw his status elevate to backup in Nashville in 2016-17 after Mazanec himself proved unreliable behind Rinne.

Luckily, Saros was able to float between Nashville and Milwaukee over the last few seasons. Early in 2017, he struggled in a few starts but was able to get his groove back after a brief vacation with the Admirals.

Saros likes to see a ton of pucks in warmups. He fares well when he’s tested early in games. In the infamous “Soup Game” against Pittsburgh in October 2016, fans remember the soft goal he let leak through from Pittsburgh’s first shot on net…but he slammed the door on every other attempt for the rest of the evening.

Last season, Saros posted 3 shutouts. One of those shutouts was an incredible 46-save performance on the road against the Edmonton Oilers.

Here’s one of my favorite Saros saves from last season. This was at home against Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks:

How will he perform with a bigger workload? Will teams be able to solve him due to his size? These questions will be answered this season.

What we see out of Saros this season will determine how Rinne’s next contract will play out. We don’t need reminding that Rinne is 36 and that he will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.

David Poile mentioned talking to Rinne about his contract at training camp, so I’d expect some news about Rinne’s next steps as the season begins.

Saros posted a very nice .925 sv% in 26 games last season (23 started). He was 11-5-7, mostly on the second half of back-to-back games, with a 2.45 GAA. With a larger workload, we will have a better idea of what Saros can provide as the future starting netminder.

Final Thoughts:

Let’s be honest. We want more of this:

While this season will see Saros show his worth with more starts, it’s not like Pekka Rinne will suddenly become a terrible goaltender. Expect massive glove saves, huge post-to-post stops, and three or four ridiculous “holy crap Pekka!” saves that will appear on this season’s highlight reel.

We may not know his role moving forward, but as I’ve noted before, this is probably not Rinne’s last season in a gold sweater. We don’t know how many more years he will want to play with the Predators or whether he will take a backup role to his protégé. What we do know is that we have two incredible goaltenders in Nashville this season and their play is going to continue to impress.

Barring injuries, I predict Rinne will start 53 games and Saros will start 29.