Predators

The Predators need to make a change in net.

Nashville finds itself down 2-0 to Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Final. The Predators have played four good periods of hockey while the Penguins have played just two, but the only thing that matters is that the Penguins have two wins in this series and the Predators have zero.

The Predators need to be better in a lot of areas to get back into this series. Nashville absolutely has to stay out of the penalty box more, get much more traffic in front of Matt Murray and also do a better job at controlling the Penguins counterpunch style offense that has bitten them so far this series.

The Predators also need to stop more pucks and that all falls on the shoulders of Pekka Rinne.

The Preds have scored two own goals so far in the series so you can’t necessarily put the blame on Rinne for those two goals, but the numbers do not lie. Rinne stopped just seven of 11 shots faced in Game One which gave him the worst save percentage (.636) in a playoff game since 1967. He followed that performance up in Game Two by stopping 21 of 25 shots and was pulled from the game early in the third period after the Penguins scored three goals in 3:18 of play. Rinne holds a .778 save percentage so far in the Stanley Cup Final.

Particularly looking at Game Two, the first goal of the period came just 10 seconds in and Rinne tossed out a rebound so perfectly into the slot to a wide open Jake Guentzel that it would have been shocking to see anyone miss. Then, the second and third goals came on odd-man rushes leaving Rinne in a very tough spot to make a stop, particularly on the third goal of the frame off of Evgeni Malkin’s stick. The second was the own goal off of Vernon Fiddler. Again, regardless of the situations, Rinne has stopped only 77.8 percent of the shots he’s faced against the Penguins.

Heading into the Cup Final, Rinne’s save percentage had dropped during each of the first three rounds of the playoffs. He posted a .976 save percentage in the sweep of the Blackhawks, a .932 save percentage in the six game series against the Blues and a .925 save percentage in six games against the Ducks. That still gave him an outstanding save percentage of .944 for these playoffs, but there is no denying that his numbers were dipping.

It’s also worth mentioning that Rinne has a horrible history against the Penguins. He’s now 1-7-2 all-time against the Penguins and he entered the series with a save percentage of .880 and a goals allowed average of 3.57; both are the worst numbers he’s posted against any team in the NHL. Needless to say, there’s something about Pittsburgh and Rinne that has the Finnish puck stopper off of his game.

As previously mentioned, the Predators have to be better in a lot of areas to get back into this series, but it doesn’t seem beneficial to throw Rinne back into the battle that he has been absolutely dominated in thus far. Why throw him back into the wolves when his confidence can’t be anywhere close to where it needs to be?

The Predators should start Juuse Saros in Game Three.

Yes, Saros is very inexperienced and saw his first NHL playoff action in Game Two after Rinne was pulled, but something needs to change. Saros played in 21 games during the regular season posting a strong save percentage of .923. He also earned a win against the Penguins in his first start of the year back on Oct. 22 stopping 34 of 35 shots.

The most recent example and one that rings most true to Preds fans of goalie swapping in the middle of a series was when the Blackhawks did it against the Predators during the 2014-15 playoffs. It was only the first-round of the playoffs, but after two bad outings from Stanley Cup champion Corey Crawford, the ‘Hawks turned to Scott Darling and he led Chicago past the Preds after playing just 14 games for Chicago during the regular season bouncing between the NHL and AHL.

There is no question that there is an argument to be had that a few of Rinne’s allowed goals shouldn’t be pinned on him, but nevertheless Rinne has a cold hand at the moment; that can not be argued. The Predators should turn to Saros and see if he has the hot hand. After all, this is the Stanley Cup Final and right now things couldn’t be worse for the Preds or Rinne.

It’s extremely difficult to imagine the Preds not starting Rinne in the first home Stanley Cup Final game in franchise history for what he has meant to the franchise over the past decade, but again, it’s the Stanley Cup Final.

What the Preds should do (start Saros) and what they likely will do (start Rinne) are two totally different things of course. Peter Laviolette was asked about that following the Game Two blowout loss, and said “Pekka has been excellent for us all year long, like I said. There’s things that we could have done. All three goals in the third period were odd-man rushes.”