Coming into the Stanley Cup Final, Pekka Rinne was likely at the top of many lists for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs’ most valuable player. He’s the reason the Predators swept the Blackhawks and why the Blues had so much trouble scoring in the latter half of their series.
By all rights, the Predators are playing in the Stanley Cup Final in the first place because how brilliant Rinne has been.
Yet, two games and a .778 save percentage in this series later, that bridge has been burnt faster than you can say regression. Rinne allowed four goals on only 12 shots in a wacky Game 1 to the Penguins, then followed up that performance with a third period to forget. Three goals in the opening three and a half minutes of a tied 1-1 game chased Rinne for the first time this postseason as the Predators stared down a 4-1 hole in Game 2. In nine games, Rinne has never won a game against the Penguins in his career.
Staring at the fallout of Game 2, a regression by Rinne doesn’t feel surprising. In fact, it was almost quite assured that Rinne was going to continue to regress to the mean as the playoffs went on. Yet, these two games don’t feel like a regression, they feel like an implosion.
Rinne’s outperformance in the first round was always going to come back to haunt him
In the Predators’ sweep of the Blackhawks, Rinne put up a .976 save percentage. He shut out the potent Chicago offense twice, and allowed just three goals on 126 shots across four games.
Obviously, Rinne was never going to continue playing at that pace. And he hasn’t. Here’s Rinne’s save percentage in every round of the playoffs, courtesy Predators reporter Adam Vingan of The Tennessean.
- Vs. Chicago Blackhawks: .976
- Vs. St. Louis Blues: .932
- Vs. Anaheim Ducks: .925
- Vs. Pittsburgh Penguins: .778
That drop off from the Conference Finals to the Stanley Cup Final is extraordinary, though clearly incomplete with a two-game sample.
As for the drop between the other two series, Rinne’s progression back to earth feels more natural. Rinne is, after all, a career .916 save percentage goaltender in the playoffs through 66 games played.
Rinne's SV% declined another .005 this evening - here is his SV% regression over the course of the playoffs. He is a career .919 SV% goalie. pic.twitter.com/wGYRXJJ4ky— Stephen Burtch (@SteveBurtch) June 1, 2017
Then why has the Penguins series hit him so hard? Well, Game 1 did him no favors as it was a real curveball of a game. Pittsburgh had 12 shots and four goals on Rinne, extremely inflating his numbers because of how low the shot total was. One came off a Predators defender in front of the net, and the eventual game-winner came after a 37-minute period of no Penguins shots.
Even still, according to Sportsnet contributor Andrew Berkshire, Rinne should have an expected .932 save percentage the way his numbers were trending. By the end of the series, his numbers could bounce back up, but it’s very unlikely Rinne breaks even with his expected average thanks to these two games.
The eye test on Rinne has been shaky since Anaheim
There were signs of a leaky Rinne back in the Western Conference Final. The first two rounds held a confident goaltender between the pipes, but Rinne’s series against Anaheim felt different.
Take Jakob Silfverberg’s goal in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final and line it up with Conor Sheary’s goal in Game 1.
Both goals came with Rinne screened and out of position to make a play on the puck at the side of the cage. That left both Silfverberg and Sheary with wide open nets.
Then, there were goals like this that should have been stopped without much trouble.
The signs were there from the Anaheim series, so it’s not really a surprise Rinne is allowing glove-side game-winners to Jake Guentzel. His game-tying goal in Game 2, in particular, is a shot that should have been shut down at the post immediately by Rinne.
TSN theorized on Thursday morning that Rinne might be exhausted, and that very well could be the case. Peter Laviolette dodged the starter question multiple times after Game 2, and there’s a clear loyalty the Predators have to their starter who got them to where they are.
The clean break did work for the Penguins and Marc-Andre Fleury to Matt Murray, but the latter goaltender is more postseason proven than Juuse Saros is for Nashville. Given Rinne’s record against Pittsburgh and rapidly closing runway for Laviolette, it’s hard not to wonder if the Predators’ championship hopes rest on this decision.
No one could have predicted the floor dropping out of Rinne so quickly, but the signs were all there pointing to a clear regression. Now, it’s up to the Predators to decide what to do with the time left that has been given to them.