The Nashville Predators announced on Wednesday that Pekka Rinne had been activated from injured reserve. This clears the way for Rinne to possibly start tonight’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

This would be Rinne’s first start since he left in the 3rd period against the Calgary Flames on October 19th. Since then, Juuse Saros has started every game for the Predators and has been just fine as a backup. He’s gone 3-2-0 with a .917 save percentage since Rinne went on injured reserve.

But the return of Rinne doesn’t mean Saros will see a reduced role the rest of the year. If anything, we will likely see a more even balance of the two Finnish goalies and even more confidence in the younger one.

Balancing Out The Starts

Juuse Saros has now started seven of the team’s first twelve games, with Pekka Rinne starting the other five. Before the season, this ratio of 7:5 games for Saros would have been unprecedented. But, obviously, injuries can set new precedent.

So what happens the rest of the season?

Even if the Predators give Rinne a 2-to-1 split of the remaining 70 games, Rinne would only start around 50 games. This would be Rinne’s lowest total since his injury plagued ’13-’14 season. This would also mean that Saros would start around 30 games, which would set a career high for him. Saros started 23 games last year.

But given the nature of Rinne’s most recent injury, and given Rinne’s age, and given how well Saros played in his place, I think giving Rinne two out of every three games is probably not going to happen.

I think we see a virtual even split the rest of the way. Perhaps slightly more than half for Rinne than for Saros. With 70 games remaining, I would be shocked if Rinne got more than 40 of those starts.

Juuse Saros Nashville Predators New Jersey Devils
Juuse Saros has wins over the Oilers, Devils, and Golden Knights with Pekka Rinne out. Image via Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports

If that happens, Saros and Rinne would both finish with around 40 starts. A dead split.

This would be huge for Saros. His work load would go up considerably and he would be one step closer to taking over the starting goalie job when Rinne leaves/retires.

Giving Saros Rest

As mentioned earlier, Saros has started all five games since Rinne went on injured reserve. This is the most consecutive starts for Saros in his career, and there were a couple games in that stretch where he looked a bit tired.

Much like we’ve said about Rinne over the last few seasons, Saros could use some rest.

With the return of Rinne to the roster, the Predators are in a much better position to give Saros a night off. Or even several in a row.

This is not to suggest that Rinne is now the backup. It’s still very clear that Rinne is the #1 goalie, but when your backup has started five games in a row, something he’s never done before, you need that #1 goalie back in the lineup to provide the backup some rest.

Pekka Rinne Juuse Saros Nashville Predators
The partnership of Rinne and Saros has been essential for the Preds over the last 3 years. Image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports

In fact, it’s been a while since Rinne himself has had to start more than five consecutive games. Last year, Rinne started eight games in a row in November while Saros was getting some starts down in Milwaukee. Rinne played very well in that month, going 7-1-0 with a .923 save percentage over those eight games, so it made sense to ride the hot hand.

But still, keeping both your goalies fresh over the course of an 82 games season is very important. You need both goalies to stay healthy and, perhaps more importantly, stay confident. Rest will accomplish both.

The Nashville Predators are in a great position in goal for the rest of the year. Since Juuse Saros arrived in Nashville in 2016, he’s been the heir apparent to Pekka Rinne. But while Rinne’s return to the lineup from injured reserve is huge for the team overall, it may be just as big for the career of his backup.

— Image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —

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