What’s Wrong With Pekka Rinne?
For the first half of the 2014-15 season, Pekka Rinne was in the same conversation as Carey Price for the Vezina and even the Hart Trophy for Most Valuable Player. Then came that fateful day of January 13, 2015 when Rinne got plowed into by his own man, Anton Volchenkov, suffering a 2nd degree knee sprain in the process. Ever since, he has shown a significant decline in his overall game. But was it really that minor injury (which kept him sidelined for only 8 games) the catalyst for his decline? The answer is no… it’s much worse.
Yes, his save percentage dropped to a decent .911 and he was giving up about half a goal per game more after the injury, finishing with a very pedestrian 12-11-4 record after returning. While the record may be attributed to the team’s overall plummeting performance, can you really say the same about the rest of his numbers? That may be up for debate, but here’s what I’m seeing.
The Rinne we have etched in our minds is the one from 2010-2012. He was a Vezina finalist in back-to-back seasons and led the league in starts, wins, and saves when the 2012 season was completed. We couldn’t have asked for more out of the Kempele, Finland native. Then the lockout happened that changed the course of his career.
While the NHL and NHLPA squabbled, costing us 34 games of regular season hockey, Rinne went to the KHL to keep sharp when he suffered what was initially reported as a groin injury. Once the shortened NHL 2013 campaign kicked off, Rinne carried the load, starting 43 of 48 games, finishing with a .910 sv% and a 15-16-8 record, both the worst of his career. It was obvious to anyone watching that something was still ailing him. It was revealed after the season that Rinne had been diagnosed with a torn hip labrum, that would sideline him for upwards of 4 months. As someone who has lived through the same injury, I can assure you it’s incredibly painful and I have no idea how he was still playing on it.
We all thought by the fall of 2013 that we’d see the old Rinne back to his Vezina form as one of the top netminders in the NHL. Unfortunately after just 9 games, he was put on the shelf for another 3 months with an E. coli infection in that same hip. Upon returning, his numbers weren’t what we had envisioned. In his final 15 starts, he had a .900 sv% in just 8 of those contests and completed the season with a mere .902 sv% and a 2.77 gaa, both again… the worst of his career.
My point is I believe the Rinne we saw at the beginning of last season, was a hot goalie. He was 29-6-2 before the knee sprain and had his best stats since 2011. You know someone else who had a ridiculous hot streak over a period of 3-4 months last year?…. Devan Dubnyk for the Wild when he went 27-9-2 with a similar sv%. Dubnyk, as he’s proven, can’t continue on that same pace over the long haul. So if you take out the ‘hot streak from a year ago’, Rinne has been very average over the course of his last 4 seasons since the hip surgery.
Look, I love Rinne and as we’ve seen this season, the Predators have bigger problems than his play between the pipes. The hope for the club is that Rinne, now 33, can somehow regain some of his top form long enough for the team to make a deep playoff run. The good news on the horizon is that his countryman Juuse Saros has developed ahead of schedule and has taken a stranglehold of the starting job in Milwaukee. Saros will be 21 next season and it’s not likely he’ll get thrown into a huge role even then. But until Saros is ready, Smashville will ride Peks until he collapses, which I fear is much sooner than we think.