The Nashville Predators will begin the 2018-19 season with arguably the best goaltending tandem in the NHL.
I mean, what other team has a Vezina Trophy winning starting goalie and also a top 15 goalie as his backup?
Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros are the Predators top two goalies and, barring an injury, they will be there all season.
Pekka Rinne, Vezina Repeat?
Finally, after 12 seasons in the NHL, Pekka Rinne got the credit he deserved last year. After finishing in the top three in most goalie stat categories, including wins, save percentage, and shutouts, Rinne won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie.
But Rinne is not likely going to rest on his laurels. He knows how the Preds season ended last year, and he probably knows that he and the defense were partly to blame.
It’s time to get back to work.
Rinne goes into his 13th NHL season with 311 wins, 51 shutouts, and a career .919 save percentage. He is 6th among all active players in wins, 3rd in shutouts, and 3rd in save percentage (min. 500 games played). But expecting Rinne to put up another Vezina Trophy winning season after winning his first one is probably expecting too much.
Only eight goalies in NHL history have won the Vezina Trophy in back to back seasons, and all eight are Hall of Famers. Guys like Martin Brodeur (who did it twice), Dominik Hasek (three times), and Patrick Roy.
stick save and a BEAUT pic.twitter.com/5rCx9AfVQC
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) May 4, 2018
Also, only eight goalies have won the Vezina Trophy at age 36 or older, which is how old Rinne will be by the end of the 2018-19 season. Hasek is one of those, as is Hall of Famer Jacques Plante, who won a Vezina at age 40.
No goalie (not even Hasek) has won back-to-back Vezina Trophies at ages 35 and 36. It’s incredibly difficult to win the Vezina at such a veteran age, let alone in back-to-back seasons, so let’s not expect Rinne to do something that no goalie has ever done in the NHL.
Having said that, even if Rinne’s numbers regress to the mean a bit this season (as is likely to happen) he will still be an above average, top 15 goalie in the league. He will likely start at least 50 games for the 5th consecutive season.
The Predators will be just fine with Rinne in net for the majority of the season, and the coaching staff will lean on him to carry the team once more.
The League’s Best Backup Goalie
One of the league’s smallest players (he’s listed at 5’11” on the Preds website, but I’d be shocked if he’s over 5’9″) is also one of its most underrated players.
Juuse Saros, Rinne’s backup goalie for two years now, is the goalie of the future for the Predators. So far he’s played 48 NHL games and has a 21-14-10 record with a .923 save percentage and four shutouts.
Compare that stat line with Rinne’s first 48 games in the NHL: 27-12-4 with a .921 save percentage and seven shutouts.
Both very similar and both very impressive.
Saros is a very different goaltender, though, and you can tell almost immediately. Without Rinne’s size advantage, he has to be much quicker in the net to cover his angles. He does a very good job at this, as seen here:
A couple things to point out here. First, you’ll notice he’s great on his skates to get moving across the goal as quickly as possible. If he doesn’t get his momentum going quickly, it’s a goal.
Next, watch his head. Or, really, his eyes. He’s tracking that puck perfectly. Like a batter in baseball keeping his head down on the ball, Saros is watching that puck all the way to his blocker. Sure, he gets a little love from his post. But give Saros credit for covering all six feet of the goal crease with his rather small wingspan.
Juuse Saros is the goaltender of the future for the Nashville Predators. Like last year, we will see plenty of him this season. With Pekka Rinne making around 50-55 starts, Saros should get between 25-30, which would be the most in his career.
— Featured image via Sporting News —