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Rinne showing signs of coming back down to earth against Ducks

Pekka Rinne was superhuman in the first two rounds, shutting down the Blackhawks and helping send home the Blues in six, but the Predators netminder has looked shockingly pedestrian against the Ducks.

As the second round was set to open, Pekka Rinne was on a record-setting pace. After helping Nashville sweep the Chicago Blackhawks and backstopping the Predators to a six-game victory over the St. Louis Blues, Rinne boasted an excellent .951 save percentage. The mark was such that were he able to maintain it he would have posted the best SP in post-season history. 

In two outings against the Anaheim Ducks, though, Rinne has fallen off of his record-setting pace, and the worry now might be that he’s starting to come back down to earth.

Game 1 of the Western Conference final saw Rinne take home the victory with 27 saves on 29 shots. The two goals he allowed weren’t exactly highlight reel tallies, however. The first came when Jakob Silfverberg turned and rifled a fadeaway on net. It looked harmless, but the puck somehow found twine over Rinne’s blocker. Later in Game 1, it was Hampus Lindholm who snapped a shot off a faceoff, beating Rinne over his right pad. Silfverberg’s shot was a stoppable one, no doubt, and one could argue Rinne could have picked up Lindholm’s blast, as well.

But in Game 2, there were another pair of instances where Rinne was beaten by shots he should have stopped, and there’s not much question about these. 

Rinne’s first regrettable goal against came on the penalty kill, when Anaheim’s Sami Vatanen came down the right wing and blasted a shot by Rinne’s blocker to draw the Ducks within one. Say what you will for the pinpoint accuracy displayed by Vatanen, but Rinne’s angle was awful. His positioning had given Vatanen a prime look on the blocker side. The Ducks defender wasn’t going to miss.

It was almost exactly one period later, with three minutes left in the second, when Rinne gave up a second ugly one. This time it was Nick Ritchie who was storming down the left wing to get to a loose puck. Without even setting his feet or really taking aim, Ritchie flung a shot on goal. It beat Rinne right over the right shoulder. Game tied and the rest is history. Anaheim scored twice more and knotted the series at one win apiece.

When the final horn sounded in Game 2, Rinne had been beaten four times and his .846 SP was his worst single-game performance of the playoffs. The outing dragged Rinne’s overall SP down to .942 at all strengths and .945 at five-a-side. But there’s a distinct feeling like this could have been seen coming, like Rinne was always bound to have a few deflating games along the way.

Heading into this post-season, Rinne had always been a steady hand, but he was never the out-and-out world-beating netminder that he’s appeared to be in these playoffs. Matter of fact, you could have possibly called him a below average playoff goaltender before his current run. From the 2010 season up until the end of the past campaign, Rinne had a career SP of .912 in the playoffs — 17th of the 25 goalies to play at least 20 playoff games over that span — and he was average at 5-on-5, boasting a .926 SP across nearly 3,000 minutes in goal.

So, when Rinne posted a gaudy .976 SP in the first round, it went without saying that he’d see a dip at some point in the post-season. However, it felt as though his numbers might not see some grand correction after he escaped the second round with a .951 SP. It’s starting to seem as though they might correct more still, though. Consider that since the end of the first round, Rinne hasn’t been the best goaltender in the playoffs, despite his overall numbers. That honor belongs to Marc-Andre Fleury, who has turned in a .930 SP since the first round, while Rinne has managed to post a .922 SP over the same span. And that gels more with Rinne’s historical numbers than his early run of play.

More concerning than his numbers regressing, though, is the fact he’s been beaten from some ugly angles and on some stoppable shots in Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference final. He has a worse SP against low- and medium-danger shots thus far than he has had against either of the Blackhawks or Blues. In fact, the two ugly angle goals Rinne has allowed against the Ducks are the first two he’s allowed all post-season from low-danger areas. And he can’t allow many, if any, more. The stoppable shots have to be turned away, especially when every goal matters that much more at this point in the playoffs.

The hope in Nashville may be that Rinne’s struggles are simply part of an adjustment period to a new batch of shooters who play a different style of game. And that hope may be tied to what the Predators netminder did in the second round. Against St. Louis, Rinne was only OK in the first two games, allowing six goals against, twice as many as he allowed in the entire opening round, and posting an .880 SP. Likewise, he’s allowed six goals in two games against the Ducks and has a .891 SP. Rinne’s turnaround came in the final four games of the second round, as he turned in a .955 SP as Nashville sent St. Louis home in six games. Maybe that Rinne shows up as the third round series shifts back to Music City. There’s no guarantee that’s the case, however. 

Nashville has appeared near perfect throughout the post-season, showing quick-strike offense and smothering, smooth-skating defense, and Rinne’s play in goal has been the complementary piece that made these Predators so pristine. But if he’s only average the rest of the way, the almost-perfect Predators may finally have their flaw.

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