Pekka Rinne is a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist and has been the Predators’ starting goaltender for the past eight seasons. But when Nashville takes the ice Monday evening, they’ll be lead out onto the ice by goaltender Carter Hutton.
That may not seem like big news, and backup goaltenders get starts all the time. It’s significant, though, because it’s a situation few would have expected coming into 2015-16: Hutton will be getting his second start in as many games, while Rinne watches as the backup. According to The Tennessean’s Adam Vignan, it will be the first time in Hutton’s three seasons with the Predators that he has started back-to-back games with Rinne healthy.
"Carter played well (Saturday)," Predators coach Peter Laviolette told Vignan of the decision. "Last three starts, he's done a really good job. He's looked good, so we go back with Carter tonight.”
As Laviolette said, Hutton certainly has looked good. In his past three starts, Hutton, 30, has posted two shutouts, allowed one goal against and picked up three important wins for the Predators. His .924 save percentage and 2.10 goals-against average are much, much better than Rinne’s .905 and 2.57 marks, and Hutton, at least now, appears to be giving Nashville the best chance to win. So while it is shocking Hutton is getting consecutive starts with Rinne watching from the bench, it makes sense for a Predators team that is currently one point back of the Colorado Avalanche for the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference and a dozen points back of the St. Louis Blues, the Central Division’s third-place team.
Rinne, 33, has been already logged an incredible amount of minutes, too, so maybe the rest can do him good. Rinne has played the fourth-most minutes of any netminder this season with only the Blackhawks’ Corey Crawford, the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist and Devils’ Cory Schneider logging more ice time this season.
Previously, Rinne has suffered through a number of injuries, but never has he played this poorly in a season in which he was healthy. His .920 SP at 5-on-5 is the second-worst mark of his career and ranks 33rd out of the 45 goaltenders to play at least 750 minutes at 5-on-5 this season. It’d be hard to imagine a Nashville team in the post-season being lead by anyone other than Rinne. At this point, it’s not beyond imagination to picture Hutton, not Rinne, leading the Predators in the post-season.
The Predators will likely continue to hold out hope for a Rinne turnaround, though. Rinne still has three years remaining on a seven-year, $49-million contract with Nashville.
There’s no telling how long Hutton’s stretch of solid play could last, but at this point, he’s the Predators’ best option in goal. Sure, he boasts a career SP of .909, but if he can play well against Dallas, he may earn himself a third-straight start Thursday against the Boston Bruins.
(All advanced statistics via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com)