Goaltenders are a strange breed to say the least. They are relied on to be the backbone, and perhaps no position in sports is as important, except maybe the Quarterback in football. A hot goalie (or goalies in the case of the Ottawa Senators) can make a mediocre team look better than they are, while a bad goalie, no matter how great the team in front of him is, can ruin your chances in an instant.
Perhaps no team in the NHL relies on its goalie as much as the Nashville Predators. Well, usually that isn’t a bad thing, but right now Pekka Rinne is in one of the worst stretches of his NHL career. It seem like just last month that he was unbeatable. Wait, it was just last month. From Jan. 31st to Feb. 18th, the Finnish netminder was almost impenetrable, posting a record of 7-1-1 with one no decision. He allowed only 8 goals and posted 3 shutouts in that stretch. They were sitting in a tie for 3rd in the Conference, and would have been seeded 5th had the playoffs started that day.
Then the switch suddenly turned off. Rinne has struggled since he allowed 3 goals in a win on Feb 19th. He has gone 2-5 in those 7 games, and has been pulled twice. After allowing more than 3 goals just once in his first 15 starts, he has allowed 4 or more in 4 of his last 5. The lowest point of the season came last night when he allowed 5 goals on just 13 shots to Jeff Carter and the LA Kings before being pulled halfway through the third period.
The Predators have fallen from 5th to 11th in the West since Feb 19th. The good news is that the West is so tight and they are simply 2 points behind 4th place Phoenix.
The Predators are the lowest scoring team in the league, and the only team that doesn’t score at least 2 goals per game on average. They are struggling so much offensively that they claimed former Senators winger Bobby Butler on waivers from New Jersey yesterday. They cannot afford to not know what they are going to get from Rinne every night, and lately they have not been getting enough. They need their Vezina trophy candidate to play like one every night if they are going to win. Anything short of that and the Predators won’t be returning to the post-season this year.