The Nashville Predators are mentally preparing to take on the Arizona Coyotes in their Stanley Cup Qualilfier whenever play resumes, a matchup that would presumably paint the Preds (.565 winning percentage) as favorites over the Coyotes (.529 winning percentage). Before that matchup, however, the Predators have to decide on a lead netminder for the five-game series. Both rostered goaltenders will get an equal shake at nabbing the top spot, per NHL.com’s Mike G. Morreale. One of Pekka Rinne or Juuse Saros will start the series against the Coyotes in the net, but it’s going to depend on who is the most ready.
Based on resume alone, Rinne would be the easy choice. He’s anchored the Predators defense since 2008-2009, won the Vezina Trophy just two seasons ago, and the 37-year-old is 21st all-time with 2.42 Goals Against Average.
But in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately department, Saros might have the edge. The 24-year-old started a career-high 34 games this season while registering a .914 save percentage. By contrast, Rinne got the starting nod in 35 games but managed just a .895 save percentage. There are a couple of teams facing this brand of a changing of the guard in goal – the Golden Knights and Capitals, for example – and the decision is a peculiar one for these clubs.
Rinne has the track record, without a doubt, and Saros could very well be the goaltender of the future, but the task at hand for the Predators is deciding who will be more ready for playoff action under these peculiar circumstances. It might be that the younger Saros will be able to get his body up to speed faster. Or it could be that the veteran Rinne is more capable of handling the mental challenge of maintaining focus amid a global pandemic. It’ll be up to the Predators’ brain trust to decide.
Morreale provides this quote from Nashville coach John Hynes: “It’s a different thing for players now; they’ve got to leave their families, go to a hub city. Families aren’t going to be part of it. You’re not coming home after games, so this is all about the team, it’s all about the Nashville Predators and playing for the guy next to you. It’s also playing for their families and how do we incorporate this to commit to the level you need to commit to win in the playoffs.”