You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but the old dog — more often than not — still remembers most of his old tricks.
Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne proved that Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville’s 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings. His wasn’t an overly impressive performance statistically — Rinne saved 24 of 26 shots — but a handful of nimble, acrobatic saves was enough to remind Preds fans just how good vintage Pekka Rinne used to be.
“I’m feeling good,” Rinne said. “I feel like … I’ve felt good since training camp and obviously, I want to show it on the ice, play well and get wins for this team. Starting from last year, there’s been ups and downs for me personally, so when I’m playing well, obviously, I’ve got to be happy about that.”
The 38-year-old netminder stopped Anthony Mantha on two occasions — first on a streaking shot at a wide-open net that he turned away with his right pad, then again on a breakaway after Mantha split Dante Fabbro and Luke Kunin and appeared to have Rinne dead to rights.
The 6-foot-5 Finn also stonewalled Frans Nielsen on a point-blank shot in the second period right in front of the net after he had a mini breakaway off a Predators defensive zone turnover.
While Rinne and Juuse Saros may have identical 3-4-0 records, their stats are anything but similar. Rinne has been the statistically superior goalie through the first 14 games of the year, besting Saros in both goals-against average (2.56 to 3.68) and save percentage (.911 to .881).
Rinne has allowed three goals or fewer in five of his six starts, while Saros has only done so in four of his eight starts. In fact, Rinne has only allowed four goals or more one time while Saros has done it four times, including his last three games.
Rinne's bounceback 2021 has been a breath of fresh air not only for the team but for the goalie himself. The 2019-20 season may have been Rinne’s worst since taking over the starting job in 2008. His 3.17 goals-against average was a career-high and his .895 save percentage was the first time in his career he was ever below 90 percent. It was also the first time he’d ever lost the starting goaltender job based on performance.
“It’s a simple answer: you put in the work,” Rinne said of how he’s been able to rebound. “Obviously, you try to stay in a good headspace. A lot of times, it can be harder. I put a lot of expectations, a lot of pressure on myself and if you’re not playing well, I can sometimes be too hard on myself.
“I think that’s something, I really try to enjoy this and really try to enjoy every single game I play and just everything about it…I don’t know how many more years I’ve got, so I really just appreciate everything I have right now.”
While head coach John Hynes has always referred to his goaltender group as a 1A and 1B situation, it’s quite clear that Rinne is the better bet right now.
In his six starts, Rinne has a .912 save percentage and 2.52 goals-against average. He’s gotten red-hot as of late, saving 94.4 percent of his shots with a 1.81 goals-against average in his last four appearances.
“I don’t want to go and say No. 1 or No. 2 at this point, but [...] he’s given us a chance to win every night,” Hynes said of Rinne. “Fortunately, tonight we were able to find a way to win and reward the effort, but what he’s doing is making big saves at big times. Goals are going to go in the net at certain points in the game, but what he’s showing now is the resiliency to stay with his game, and he came up big.
“We gave up some chances late in the game and he made some he stops. So, it’s good to see him play the way that he’s playing, and when you give your team an opportunity to win every night, you’re going to get a lot of starts.”
The Predators may not have much going for them right now, but Rinne re-emerging as a steady presence in net could be the thing that lights a fire under the team.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_