We are now four days away from the Nashville Predators and Arizona Coyotes meeting in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifying Round. As we continue to count down the top five most talented players each team has to offer, today we will focus primarily on goaltending.
You can still check out the previous three installments in this series on Viktor Arvidsson, Matt Duchene, and Filip Forsberg, but today we reach arguably the most crucial component of any hockey team. The performance of the two players listed today could end up deciding the series.
Preds #2: Pekka Rinne
He’s only the franchise’s greatest player of all time, and its all-time winning-est goalie in the playoffs and regular season.
Pekka Rinne is everything for the Nashville Predators and he has been for over a decade. But we would be kidding ourselves if we didn’t admit he’s not been the same player over the last couple seasons. He’s a mere shadow of the Vezina Trophy winning goalie of 2018 and his 2019-20 season was very disappointing by his standards.
So why is he the Preds’ second most talented player on this list?
Because he’s still Pekka Rinne.
If you’ve watched the Preds during his career, you know that he can take over games in the playoffs. He willed the team to victory in Games 1 and 2 in Chicago back in 2017, and was incredible the rest of the way up until the Stanley Cup Final. He was sensational in that Game 7 victory in Anaheim back in 2016, making 36 saves against the Ducks. And in the Preds’ 2011-12, Rinne was the very best player the Preds had on the ice, sporting a .929 save percentage against the Red Wings and Coyotes.
Then there’s plays like this one that defy logic and reason:
Pekka Rinne doin’ the damn thing, what a sequence pic.twitter.com/fOE11yEpbf
— Marina Molnar (@mkmolnar) June 6, 2017
Or plays like this, where he uses goalie equipment you didn’t even know could make saves:
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) May 3, 2020
Or plays like this that just make you stand in awe:
— NHL Euro News (@NHLEuro) April 18, 2017
All of those huge moments came in the playoffs. He’s built for the postseason because of his athleticism and will to win. Yes, even though he’s had some bad games in the playoffs, and yes, he’s not the same player he was even a couple seasons ago… he’s still Pekka Rinne.
If you are a Preds fan, you know what Pekka Rinne can do. And that has to give you hope for this series against Arizona.
Coyotes #2: Darcy Kuemper
A few years ago, no one would have predicted Darcy Kuemper’s rise with a team like the Arizona Coyotes.
As he struggled to remain consistent with the Minnesota Wild, the team that drafted him in 2009, it soon became clear that Kuemper was destined to be a backup goalie in the NHL. Then when the Wild stumbled upon Devan Dubnyk, Kuemper became an afterthought and he left the team in free agency in 2017.
With the Kings that season, Kuemper became a competent backup behind Jonathan Quick, cementing the logic that Kuemper is a career backup that needed to be on a strong defense-first hockey team to find success.
Then he was traded to the Coyotes and became an instantly successful starting goaltender (after an injury to then starter Antti Raanta) on a team with questionable defensive abilities.
Quite literally, Kuemper came out of nowhere. Now he’s suddenly one of the best goalies in the NHL over the last two seasons.
Save percentage rankings among goalies with at least 1000 even strength minutes over the last two seasons:
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) July 29, 2020
Like Pekka Rinne, Kuemper brings considerable size and athleticism to the net. He’s known for quick reflexes and a steady eye in puck tracking, always in control of the front of his net, always making the safe play. He’s smart and he’s learned over the years when to get aggressive and when not too.
The Nashville Predators have been here before. They’ve faced off against some of the league’s best goalies in the playoffs that last few years: Corey Crawford (2017), Jake Allen (2017), Matt Murray (2017), and Connor Hellebuyck (2018) were all at the top of their game when the Preds took them on in the postseason. With the exception of Murray, the Preds were able to figure them out.
But there’s no question that the goaltending matchup in this one favors the Coyotes, as they finished with the 3rd best save percentage at even strength this season. The combination of Kuemper and Antti Raanta seems like a tough challenge for the Preds to face in just a five game series.
— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —