Pekka Rinne is the heart and soul of the Nashville Predators. An argument could be made that Shea Weber is the leader of the team but the truth is that the Predators wouldn't be close to the level they are without the outstanding goaltending Rinne provides.
A recent article from The Tennessean speculates that Nashville will opt to rest Rinne a bit more often in 2012-13 in an effort to ensure that when the goaltender does play he is at the height of his ability. Is this a wise move for Nashville or should they continue to run Rinne out on the ice as often as humanly possible?
Rinne is an elite talent in the National Hockey League. A Vezina Trophy finalist in each of the past two seasons, Rinne has made Nashville a contender simply through his presence between the pipes. Since his debut in the 2005-06 season, Rinne has compiled an impressive 138-72-26 record and a tiny 2.35 GAA with the Predators across 250 appearances.
Previously, Rinne was one of only a select few goaltenders in the NHL that was expected and counted on to start nearly every game throughout an entire 82-game season. Rinne played in 73 games last season – a significant increase over the 64 he appeared in during the 2010-11 season and the 58 he appeared in during the 2009-10 season. His mark of 73 games played was tied for the most in the NHL with Anaheim's Jonas Hiller. To put this number in perspective, only three goaltenders appeared in 70 or more games (Hiller, Rinne and Kiprusoff) and only 13 goaltenders appeared in 60 or more games.
Little by little the mentality around the NHL has shifted from the strategy of using one goaltender exclusively to using two goaltenders almost equally. Consider the St. Louis Blues. The Blues deployed a strategy that consisted of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott splitting time throughout the season. Halak started 46 games while Elliott started 36. This strategy not only kept each goaltender fresh but it also allowed some friendly competition with each goaltender pushing the other to do better in order to receive more playing time. The end result was that the Blues had a formidable 1-2 punch in net that went on to allow the fewest goals of any team in the NHL.
The strategy St. Louis used doesn't translate well to the Nashville Predators as they have one of the truly elite goaltenders in the NHL. You won't be seeing a 60-40 split here. However, they probably are going to adopt the mentality of resting Rinne on a more regular basis and letting their #2, Chris Mason, see a bit more playing time.
It's fairly clear that Nashville intends to rest Rinne more as they made the move to bring in a backup, Mason, to fill the #2 role when Anders Lindback was dealt to Tampa Bay. Lindback earned just 10 starts in 2011-12. Despite his potential, Nashville probably wasn't comfortable allowing him to start more games than that simply because he lacked experience. Now that Chris Mason is back in the mix, the Predators have a more reliable secondary option to fall back on than they had in 2011-12.
Rinne should see more rest in 2012-13 but don't expect his playing time to be cut too substantially. Instead of resting nine games like he did in 2011-12, his time on the bench might be increased to 15 or 20 games now that the more reliable Chris Mason is ready behind him. Will additional rest sharpen Rinne's numbers further? Probably not. As is his numbers are already some of the best numbers in the NHL. However, allowing Rinne's body to recover a bit more often during the wear and tear of a regular season could sharpen the goaltender's game come playoff time.