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Preds making hard gamble benching Rinne

By: Will Pitts

Pekka Rinne has had an inconsistent Finals series, but despite mostly being good at home, the Predators are still benching him for a relatively untested backup.

Down three games to two in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Nashville Predators are in a perilous position tonight. With starting goaltender that is struggling and an inconsistent offense, the team’s entire seasons rests on the shoulders of their anonymous backup goalie, Juuse Saros.

It’s hard to sum up Pekka Rinne’s performance in these Finals as anything other than disappointing, at best. The meltdown began late in the opening period of the series when Rinne allowed three goals in a span of 3:11. Further indignity came in game two when he allowed Pittsburgh to race to a 4-1 lead – with two of the goals coming a mere fifteen seconds apart. This time, he couldn’t even make it to the end of the game before being pulled for Saros.

Rinne’s disastrous performance in Game 5 – a 6-0 defeat to Pittsburgh in which he was pulled before the first period even ended – was the final straw. In Game 6, Rinne will watch from the bench while someone else will fill his position for the most important game in Nashville Predators history.

But does it have to be this way?

While Rinne has indeed struggled during this series, his poorer performances have been confined to the PPG Paints Center. During the two games so far on the Predators’ home ice, Rinne saved 50 of 52 shots as Nashville stormed back to tie the series. Only when they returned to Pittsburgh did Rinne’s performance slump again.

Rinne and the rest of the Predators gained something intangible in games three and four in Nashville and lost it when they went back to Pittsburgh for Game 5: home ice advantage. With Game 6 back in Nashville and a chance to force the series to a seventh game, Preds coach Peter Laviolette may be carelessly tossing aside this advantage by starting Saros instead of Rinne.

But what about Saros? Has he proven himself to be a dependable fallback option in case Rinne continues to underperform? That depends on the way you look at it.

This is Saros’ second season in the NHL and the first where he’s started more than one game. With 19 starts this season, he compiled a record of 10-8-3, with a save percentage of .923 and a goals against average of 2.23. Of note, in October he started against these very same Pittsburgh Penguins in the regular season and led them to a 5-1 win, stopping 34 shots.

After Rinne had been pulled in Game 2 of the Finals, Saros kept the Penguins off the scoreboard for the remainder of the game. That sounds great in theory, but playing only in garbage time when the game is practically decided is different from playing an entire sixty-minute game. Three games later, after another poor effort by Rinne sent him packing, Saros was again sent out. This time he wasn’t so fortunate, letting the Penguins pad out the score with three more goals. It should be noted that these were the first playoff appearances of his career.

Even off of that performance, Peter Laviolette has chosen to give the responsibility of saving the Predators’ season to an untested second-year goaltender. After Game 5, the knee-jerk reaction may be, “It’s about time!” But that may change by tomorrow.

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Will Pitts

After playing youth ice hockey for nine years and high school lacrosse for two years, William Pitts decided he would take the path of reporting on sports rather than playing them. In addition to writing for SoMuchSports, he also operates his own blog, the cleverly-named "Sports on TV" Blog, focusing on the business of televised sports. He hopes to one day become the next Al Michaels, but he'll gladly settle for becoming the next Joe Buck.
One Response to “Preds making hard gamble benching Rinne”
  1. Will Pitts says:

    Ignore this article. It was written based off a mistaken assumption. I misread a USA Today headline and things snowballed from there.