This morning, Nashville Predators head coach Barry Trotz said the words that every Preds fan has been waiting to hear since October. Pekka Rinne may play during the team’s upcoming homestand.
Rinne, who has only played nine games this year, has been out since late October with a hip infection somehow contracted as a result of offseason surgery. There was doubt as to whether he would be back this season at all, but after getting cleared for workouts and practicing during the Olympic break, it’s looking more and more possible he’ll see ice time this season.
The Predators are only four points out of a playoff spot, which is a feat in and of itself. At times they have struggled to fill the hole that Rinne left behind. They have used four other goaltenders this season. Carter Hutton and rookie Marek Mazanec both got significant starting time, and both excelled for a bit before struggling for just as long. Devan Dubnyk came in from Edmonton in early January via a trade for Matt Hendricks, but he has only seen two starts. The crease belongs to Hutton right now, who was playing some of his best hockey before the Olympic break.
Still, and this is no disrespect to Hutton, even a rusty Rinne gives the Predators a better chance of winning every night. The Vezina nominee is arguably the most important player on the roster and completes the idea of “Predator hockey.” If Nashville can only manage to score one or two goals on select nights (something that happens often) Rinne can hold the opposition to less.
The team still has hurdles to jump over in the standings, and it isn’t guaranteed the Finnish netminder will be at the top of his game for the rest of the season. However, it is a gigantic boost to the team and can only help them in their playoff chase.