Hold the Juus: Nashville’s growing goaltending controversy

It seems like the team’s outlook on the goalie situation may be changing

Heading into this season, Pekka Rinne was positioned to play out the final season of his current contract serving as a Vezina-winning backup to Juuse Saros. It seemed as if the stage was set for Juuse Saros to claim his role as the heir apparent to Pekka Rinne’s spot in the number one starter’s crease with the Nashville Predators.

However, due to COVID-19, the season was shortened and compacted. The end result of the changed to the season meant lots of quick turnarounds between games, as well as a great many back-to-backs. Coming into camp, it appeared as though the general idea was for the goalie tandem to expect a “healthy competition” for ice time. The thing about setting up a healthy competition is that it’s very easy to avoid calling someone “number one,” because playing time is earned.

The healthy competition between the two saw Saros getting the nod on a much more consistent basis. And, while this team was not predicted to be a shoo-in for the Stanley Cup Finals, on-ice results have still been less than expected. After last night’s game, the Predators sit at 5-7-0, garnering a 7th place slot in the Central Division and the 5th worst points percentage in the league. A string of losses and overtime wins has severely limited their ability to make significant gains in the standings.

Despite the frustrating performances, these losses can’t be attributed to goaltending as much as they can be placed on forwards making crucial mistakes with errant passes and the defense of the team not performing up to the usual standards. When those issues are combined with an ugly loss to the Dallas Stars and a dramatic, come-from-behind overtime win against the Florida Panthers, both of which saw Pekka Rinne making relief appearances, it should come as no surprise that the language being used to describe the goalie situation has changed.

Pekka Rinne got the start Friday against the Panthers the night after his relief appearance. Although the team lost, Rinne had an outstanding night in front of the net. During the post-game media availability, Rinne expressed his gratitude to be able to help his team out in any way he could:

“I just try to have the right attitude and be ready all the time, make the most of it when I get ice time and try to play well. Obviously, my goal is to help this team and hopefully play more, but at the same time, it’s a healthy competition and something that I knew coming into this season.”

This is the answer you would expect coming from a veteran player and ambassador for the sport, but from his tone, it seems clear he’s longing for more.

However, during an interview after practice on Sunday, Head Coach John Hynes gave a very honest and direct answer to a question about whether or not the team’s goalie plans for the season had changed based on recent play by Rinne:

“Coming in, it was one where we truly said it was going to be a healthy competition. But you can see [Rinne] was a little bit different when he came back from this pause...Last year was hard for him going from a starter every night, then Saros took over the load. It’s a challenge for a guy that’s played as long as he has...It’s a totally different day; it’s a totally different practice....but he’s come back, he looks good, he’s in a good mental state...he’s played very well, he’s really making a push. I would say right now, it’s a 50/50 split and he’s really making a strong case for himself to be the number one guy.”

Of course, Hynes mentioned that tandem will be splitting starts due to the nature of the season. While there are certainly many factors that go into the decision on who to start each night, Pekka Rinne got the call to start the first night of a back to back against the Tampa Bay Lightning last night. That, when combined with Hynes’s comments, could mean you’ll be seeing Pekka Rinne slide into that 1A spot as his veteran presence could be what’s needed to help smooth out the bumpy start to the season.