The NHL season was postponed indefinitely on March 11th, as Juuse Saros and the Predators were beginning to get hot. Saros was among the best Goalies in the league at the time and the Predators were on a 3 game winning streak, beating the Stars back to back.
Juuse Saros started the final 4 games before the season was halted due to Covid-19. He also started 14 of the last 18 and allowed just 28 goals in that span. While Saros ranked 30th in Goals Against throughout the 2019-20 season, his 2 goals against average throughout the last 14 games ranked first over that time period. Shockingly, Rinne allowed 54 goals in his last 14 starts which ranked last among qualifying goaltenders.
While Saros clearly finished the shortened season on a stronger note, Rinne posted similar stats throughout the year. Saros lead in Goals Against Average and Save Percentage while Rinne lead in Wins (in less games). Unfortunately, both goalies were below average in many statistical categories.
Pekka Rinne, 37, is one of the greatest players in Predators history and is one of the best Goaltenders in the last decade. A few uncontrollable factors led to a rough 2019-20 season for Rinne. The first being the poor defense. The Predators defense is having their worst statistical season since 2012 when it comes to Penalty Kill % and Goals Against. While Roman Josi has had a Norris Trophy caliber season, the defense has been a liability throughout the year.
The hiring of head coach, John Hynes, did greatly change the trajectory of the season. When Hynes came in, the defense began improving as did the whole team. Unfortunately for Rinne, Hynes favored Saros. Since Hynes was hired, Saros has started 18 games compared to Rinne's 11. Hynes was not wrong for starting Saros, though Rinne was not given a fair shot with the improved defense.
The 2 month snapshot of Rinne's struggles is not a fair assessment of his season. Sure, many argue that he is rapidly declining at the age of 37 and he will never return to his early season self, but that is wrong. Rinne is far older than the average goalie age of 30 but by no means is his career over. If you carefully watched the games which Rinne struggled in, you can see an unmotivated defense that gave up 30+ shots per night. It was made clear that Rinne needed more rest than in prior seasons but he did all he could when the defense was at an all time low.
Juuse Saros, 25, got a large percentage of his starts after the coaching change. For the second half of the season, Saros clearly gave the Predators a better chance of winning than Rinne. Saros stole a few games by himself and was on a serious hot streak as the season concluded. With all this being said, who will the Predators start in the 2020 Playoffs against the Arizona Coyotes?
The question really comes down to experience vs performance from this season. While Saros finished the season off strong and Rinne did not, what indicates that will continue? On the other hand, what indicates Rinne can revert to the level he was at in the beginning of the 2019-20 season? It is a tough decision but with Rinne's experience, he will likely handle these uncharted circumstances better than 25 year old Saros.
The Predators should start the 2020 playoffs with Pekka Rinne in net though they should be willing to make a switch if needed. Both Goalies offer a great chance of winning though experience is crucial in strange times like these. It does, however, seem much more likely that John Hynes will go with Saros based off this season's performance.
This season is clearly unlike anything seen before. For the Predators, the goaltending will be important but it will likely not make or break their chances of advancing past the Coyotes in the Qualifying Round. If the chosen goalie does not start quickly, the Predators will already be at a serious disadvantage since the Qualifying Series is just 5 games. A quick start is crucial for the Predators to avoid an early deficit. The question of which Goalie to start is complicated and both sides have valid arguments.
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