The Nashville Predators, who currently own the best record in the NHL, are about to begin life without the league’s best goaltender, Pekka Rinne, who will miss the next three to five weeks with a knee injury. With Rinne out of the lineup, the Predators will be forced to prove to the rest of the league that they truly are the Stanley Cup contender their record suggests they are, and that they aren’t just a one-dimensional team riding the success of their goaltender.
The Predators are pretty familiar with having to deal with not having Pekka Rinne in net. Last season, Rinne was limited to 24 games, forcing Nashville to play the season with a combination of Carter Hutton (0.910 save percentage in 40 games), Marek Mazanec (0.902 save percentage in 25 games), and Devan Dubnyk (0.850 save percentage in two games). As a result, the Predators finished with a 38-32-12 record, leaving them in 10th place in the conference, three points out of a playoff spot.
Last season, the Predators were 23rd in the league in shots on goal per game with 29.0, and 11th in the league in shots against per game with 28.9. As a result, they finished 21st in goals against per game, and 19th in goals for per game. There’s a pretty decent chance that if they had a healthy Rinne in net for the entire season performing at his career average, they would have snuck into the playoffs, but they still wouldn’t have been much of a force to be reckoned with.
This year’s Nashville Predators are much better than last year’s Nashville Predators, though. They’re one of the best teams in the league, and while Pekka Rinne has a lot to do with that, he isn’t the only factor involved in their success.
The Predators are currently sitting in third place in the league with 32.0 shots per game and 31.4 shots per game at 5 on 5, and seventh in the league with three goals for per game. This is a stark contrast to last year, where they were a middle-to-bottom level team in offence. As a result, unlike last year, the Predators are good enough offensively to compensate for average goaltending.
Let’s take a look at where the team would be if Carter Hutton played every single game for the Predators this season.
Rinne is currently 29-6-2 in 32 games this season, meaning he’s accounted for every single one of his team’s wins. In those 32 games, he’s posted a 0.931 save percentage (third best in the NHL) while facing the third most shots 1053 against of any goaltender in the league. Over his career, Hutton has posted a 0.909 save percentage in 46 career games.
Taking Hutton’s career save percentage into account, had he played in all of Pekka Rinne’s games this season he would have allowed ~96 goals on 1053 shots, in comparison to Rinne, who allowed 73 on the same 1053 shots. As a result, Nashville would have likely allowed 23 more goals in those games, giving them a total of 110 goals against. Yes, I know, it’s a small sample size, but hypothetically with Hutton in net, Nashville would have 2.62 goals against per game, putting them right in the middle of the league. The results with Mazanec in net would also be relatively similar, as he boasts a similar 0.902 career save percentage. Obviously the team could have performed differently with Hutton or Mazanec in net, potentially playing tighter defence and allowing less shots, or either goaltender could have plated above/below his career averages, completely changing the results, but this is just hypothetical.
Pekka Rinne is the reason that Nashville is one of the best teams in the NHL, but they would probably still be a pretty good team without him. Nashville is in the middle of the pack in terms of shots against per game, but is first in the league in goals against per game. This is due to almost entirely to Rinne’s spectacular goaltending. So credit is given where credit is due on the defensive side. In terms of scoring, Nashville is seventh in the league in goals scored per game and is third in shots on goal per game. This should’t change much with Rinne out of the lineup, unless the Predators tighten up their game in order to compensate for having a weaker goalie in net. They also have a relatively average 9.4 team shooting percentage, which could also increase, resulting in an increase in goals for. As long as Nashville maintains their shots for/shots against ratio, and the combination of Hutton/Mazanec performs along the lines of their career averages, Nashville will still be a good team. Not as good as they were with Rinne in net, but good enough to be a playoff team.