Pekka Rinne picked up the win last night, but the Nashville Predators may have suffered their biggest loss of the season.
With more than 17 minutes remaining in the third period, with Nashville up 2-1 over the visiting Vancouver Canucks, Predators defenseman Anton Volchenkov and Canucks winger Chris Higgins collided and slid towards Rinne’s net. They made contact with the Vezina favorite, and the three players slid into the boards. What may have looked like an innocuous collision left Rinne attempting to stretch out in his crease before leaving the ice. He did not return.
After the game, Predators coach Peter Laviolette told media that Rinne was listed as day-to-day. If Rinne is seriously injured and sidelined for a significant period of time, the Predators will have to rely on Carter Hutton, and that’s not a good thing.
In six games this season, five of which were starts, Hutton has a record of 0-3-2, while posting a .905 save percentage and 2.60 GAA. That’s a far cry from Rinne’s league leading 29 wins, and second-best .931 SP and 1.96 GAA. That’s not to mention his three shutouts and that he’s made the second most stops of any goaltender in the league.
What should worry Predators fans most isn’t just the obvious, subpar numbers that Hutton has posted, it’s the underlying numbers that should be most worrisome.
Last season, in more than 1,600 minutes between the pipes at 5-on-5, Hutton’s SP was a dismal .917, the sixth worst mark of goaltenders who had played at least 1,500 minutes at even strength. Below Hutton were names like Karri Ramo and Ondrej Pavelec, with Tim Thomas, Evgeni Nabokov, and Martin Brodeur, a trio of aging netminders, rounding out bottom five.
And though Rinne’s SP at 5-on-5 was worse in 2013-14 – he had the worst statistical season of his career, posting a .900 SP over 1,100 minutes at 5-on-5 – it isn’t even close to indicative of the type of player Rinne is. This season, in nearly 1,800 minutes in the Nashville goal, Rinne’s 5-on-5 SP is .945. Of the 29 goaltenders that have played 1,000 minutes at 5-on-5, that’s far and away the best mark.
What’s maybe more concerning, though, is that if Rinne is out, the team will likely be involved in more close games. That’s simply based on the fact that Rinne, when Nashville isn’t firing on all cylinders, can mask their deficiencies and hold strong while the Predators attempt to pull away. In close games at 5-on-5, Rinne’s SP is even higher, .952, while Hutton’s has dipped even further south, .890.
Sadly, the drop off doesn’t appear to be a statistical anomaly for Hutton, either. In 2013-14, he was head of only Brodeur, Thomas, and Nabokov with a .910 SP at 5-on-5 in games that were within a goal in the first two periods last season. That doesn’t bode well for Nashville, and is going to have to force the team to score themselves to victory more nights than not. Luckily, that hasn’t been a problem for the Predators, as they’re the sixth highest scoring team in the league. However, they’ve only scored first in 19 of their 42 games this season, and trailing first would be a risky habit with Hutton in goal.
With Rinne just over a year removed from hip surgery that resulted in him missing 51 games, the possibility he could be sidelined again with a lower body injury is certainly something to be frightened about for Predators fans. Include that he missed eight games at the end of 2010 following arthroscopic knee surgery, and there may be even more cause for concern.
Wednesday was an off day for the Predators, and they won’t release more information until Thursday when the team is back at practice. But if this is serious and Hutton is given the starting role for a significant period of time, there’s reason to be nervous in Nashville.