The Nashville Predators might be quietly making one of the biggest changes to their team in the past decade.

Amid the controversy over Peter Laviolette scratching Kyle Turris and the Robert Bortuzzo hit on Viktor Arvidsson, the Predators have another major story developing and it has to do with the team’s best player in franchise history: Pekka Rinne.

With Juuse Saros making his 2nd consecutive start on Monday against the Blues, and likely headed for a 3rd straight on Wednesday against the Golden Knights, we might be witnessing the changing of the guard in the Preds net in real time.

Preds going with the backup

There’s no doubt about it, Pekka Rinne has struggled this year. I went in more detail on his struggles in my Weekly Edge column, but in short, through 14 starts he’s been a below average goalie. And since Halloween, he’s been one of the worst goalies in the league, having been pulled from the game early in three of his last four starts.

Juuse Saros started two consecutive games, both against the Blues, this past Saturday and Monday. As I pointed out, this is only the 2nd time ever that Saros has started consecutive games for the Preds with Pekka Rinne healthy. The only other time was last year around the All-Star break, where Rinne was traveling and participating in the All-Star festivities.

But we’ve now reached new territory.

Based on Wednesday’s practice, Juuse Saros will start for the third consecutive game, something he has never done with Pekka Rinne healthy.

Coach Laviolette made it sound like this is just him “playing the hot hand” which NHL coaches often do when it comes to goaltending. But it would be impossible not to notice a larger trend emerging here.

Saros the new starter?

Pekka Rinne has been immune to the impact of Father Time for most of his career. But at 37 years old, even Rinne can’t hold off the inevitable. At some point, Rinne won’t have anything left and will have to give in to a backup role as a preamble to eventual retirement.

Are we seeing that happen right now? It’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Right now, Juuse Saros is not just the hot hand. He’s the better goalie. Since October 31st, he is 2-2-1 with a .909 save percentage in eight games (five starts). Pekka Rinne is 1-4-1 with an .806 save percentage in six starts in the same time span.

When you are over 100 save percentage points better over the course of at least five starts, that’s not just a hot streak. That’s just being a better goalie. Saros looks more confident in net than Rinne right now and he’s getting better results all around.

One test is in the “if the playoffs started tomorrow” hypothetical. Of course, if the playoffs started tomorrow, the Preds would be at home, missing out on the last Wild Card spot by two points. But adjusting this hypothetical for the purposes of this discussion (and, hey, it’s a hypothetical) if they were in a playoff spot, who would be the starter for the Nashville Predators?

I bet it would be Juuse Saros.

Thankfully for Nashville Predators fans, the playoffs don’t start tomorrow, because the team would be out of the mix for the Stanley Cup. But thankfully for Pekka Rinne as well, because he might not be the starter if they were.

— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —
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