Adam Vingan, USA TODAY NETWORK — Tennessee
TORONTO — Pekka Rinne ambled into the visiting dressing room at Barclays Center on Monday evening, a relieved smile plastered on his face.
“We had played such a strong game,” Rinne said, “and we were down pretty much because of me.”
The Predators also won because of him. If not for his crunch-time acrobatics Monday, there would’ve been nothing to celebrate.
“We owed (Rinne) one of those games,” Predators center Ryan Johansen said. “He’s had our back all year, and he’s been absolutely phenomenal. He’s definitely giving himself a case for the Vezina (Trophy) in my opinion.”
Rinne used to be a frequent finalist for that award, given to the NHL’s best goaltender by its general managers. He didn’t collect it in 2011, 2012 or 2015, but a strong argument can be made for his candidacy this season.
“I always believe that it doesn’t matter how old you get or how many games you have played in this league, I always feel like you can improve,” said Rinne, 35. “You can actually get better. That’s my only goal.”
Monday’s victory extended Rinne’s personal winning streak to eight games, the third of at least that length this season among NHL goaltenders. Despite his uncharacteristic performance against the Islanders, he still has a 1.85 goals-against average and .932 save percentage in that stretch.
For more evidence of Rinne’s legitimacy as a Vezina Trophy contender, direct your attention toward his .937 even-strength save percentage, the highest among 26 NHL goaltenders with at least 30 starts.
If that isn’t enough, 26 of his 38 starts register as “quality starts,” or games in which a goaltender posts a save percentage equal to or greater than the league average. That ratio also leads the league.
But those are just fancy numbers for everybody else to talk about, and there are plenty more that dissect a goaltender’s true value to his team’s success. Rinne never has judged himself on how his statistics measure up against his counterparts.
“I think it goes hand in hand with the team game, too,” Rinne said. “Obviously you’ve got to be feeling confident. You’ve got to be feeling good to play well. But at the same time, when you start worrying about your stats, that’s when you start focusing on the wrong things.
“I’ve got to be happy the way I’ve been playing and the way the whole team has been playing so far this year.”
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