You could be forgiven for doubting. It wasn’t at all clear whether Pekka Rinne would be able to return to the form that had garnered him two Vezina nominations. A lingering hip problem in 2012-13 that probably led him to put up his lowest save percentage in five years. Surgery, followed by post-surgical complications followed by even worse performance in March and into April. And he turned 32 this November. Everyone had questions.
Thankfully for Predators fans—not to mention goalie fans—Rinne is showing that he’s still one of the very best in the league. He may even be playing better than he was before.
It has continued through the season, where Rinne has been at the top of the leaderboard in save percentage, goals against, and wins throughout from the beginning. His only real competition this season has been Carey Price. And that’s a tight race. My colleague Paul Campbell (@Paul_G_Campbell) has made the case for Price, but let’s be honest, we haven’t seen a Vezina race this close in a long time.
As of Feb 18, Rinne holds a very slight lead over Price in 5v5 save percentage (via War-On-Ice): Rinne’s .9456 is barely better than Price’s .9425. Rinne is second to Price (again, just barely—.9455 to .9433) in Adjusted Save Percentage (goalies with 750+ 5v5 minutes). Rinne has been very slightly better at stopping pucks in the high and medium danger zones. Price has been better at stopping them in the low danger zone. [Note that whenever possible, stats cited here are through Feb. 18, so that Paul and I are using the same set of data.]
They are first and second in Fenwick and Corsi Save Percentage. Rinne gets 1.11 minutes per shot attempt; Price gets 1.04 minutes. Both are outperforming their Opponents’ On-Ice Goals For/60, Rinne by 0.69 goals per 60 minutes at 5v5 and Price by 0.60. Rinne’s .773 Quality Start rate puts him solidly above his competition. Price’s .652 is sixth among goalies with more than 20 games. They are first and second in GSAA (Goals Saved Above Average), with Price leading there.
In short, going by the numbers, Price and Rinne are currently neck and neck. The differences in most of these numbers are negligible. Which one is ahead in any of the categories changes from day to day. Only the quality start rate and GSAA show much differentiation. This indicates that while Rinne has been more consistent, Price has been behind a worse team.
And that consistency is remarkable. Rinne has simply been dominating all season and has never dropped below .935 in four months. It took Price half a season to catch up.
The next 20 games will be telling, but I don’t expect to see significant separation in these numbers develop. There simply isn’t enough time left in the season to overcome what has happened so far. It would take a complete collapse by one of the two to really make a winner clear by the numbers. Thus it will almost certainly come down to other factors.
At 32 years old, with a new goalie coach, Rinne has been refining his technical game. He’s playing a bit deeper and a lot calmer, so much so that he makes the whole business look simple. And he’s done this without losing that trademark reactivity. Adding structure without losing creativity. It has been a joy to watch.
Rinne tracks the puck better than almost everyone else. He catches the puck better than anyone else. Positioning, footwork. It’s all there. Night after night, Rinne puts it all together and makes magic happen.
And consider this: Pekka Rinne is more than keeping up with a man 5 years his junior who plays more conservatively. He has been and remains the guy to beat. It’s a remarkable feat for the big Finn. Take the play of teammates out of the equation. This isn’t an award for being the best player on the team. This is an award for goaltending. Unlike Price, Pekka Rinne has been astonishing from day one and hasn’t slowed down yet.
This is his year.