Pekka Rinne had a good night on Tuesday. The Nashville Predators goalie got the win over Chicago, but on a micro-level, he also tortured the talented Patrick Kane with his saves. Even though Rinne helped Nashville get to the Stanley Cup final last year, there were questions about how good the veteran netminder still was. After all, even during that run, Rinne was exposed in road games and he did have a lot of miles on him already.
But here we are in 2017-18 with Rinne 35 years old and still putting up numbers.
The Predators have pulled themselves up into the Central Division’s top three now and Rinne has won nine of his past 10 decisions.
Which got me thinking of something TSN analyst (and former NHL goalie) Jamie McLennan told me for our “Burning Questions” season preview magazine: “It’s a young man’s game,” he said. “Except when it comes to goaltending.”
Take a look at the save percentage leaders and you’ll find some very familiar names. Sure, a youngster like Andrei Vasilevskiy is having huge success with Tampa Bay, while Sergei Bobrovsky is on track to win another Vezina at the age of 29, but Jonathan Quick is back and healthy! In fact, it was Quick’s work against Detroit on Tuesday, in tandem with Rinne’s performance against the Hawks, that made me think of this topic.
Along with Rinne and Quick, you also have Corey Crawford, Jimmy Howard and Roberto Luongo in the top 10. All of these netminders are on the wrong side of 30, but they’ve also been on the right side of the puck a lot this season.
Perhaps this shouldn’t be too surprising if you really dig into it. Sure, athleticism can be a big part of goaltending success, but the mental aspect of the game is something that can be improved over time with experience. At some point, you’ve seen pretty much anything that could happen in a hockey game and that has to count for something.
I’m sure that’s also why it’s rare to see a goalie make an NHL impact in his teens or early twenties, even when up front the league is being taken over by the Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews types of phenoms. Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray is probably the closest recent example of a young netminder who really put his stamp on the league and stories like his don’t come around too often.
Of all the veteran netminders having success this year, Luongo may be the most impressive. Only a handful of players in the NHL are older that the Florida starter, including fitness freaks Jaromir Jagr and Zdeno Chara. But Luongo, 38, just became the second goalie ever to win 200 games with two different franchises (Patrick Roy being the other). And Luongo’s not simply hanging on for dear life: he’s stealing games for the Cats. Florida is still near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, but Luongo missed six straight games with a hand injury earlier this season and that didn’t help matters.
Now, will this trend continue for the entire year? It’s early, so perhaps conditioning will play a role. But Marty Brodeur was still pretty good in his late thirties and, while he’s a legend, some of these guys are pretty good themselves.
At the least, we can’t count them out just yet.