I don’t think there’s any doubt who the favorite for the Vezina Trophy is in early February. If Tim Thomas continues to rack up the wins and play lights-out in the crease for the Boston Bruins, he will likely claim his second piece of hardware in the last three years.
With that said, there’s another goaltender making waves around the league. Pekka Rinne has sneakily put together a strong campaign for the playoff-contending Predators. Following Wednesday’s win over Detroit, Rinne ranked second in the NHL in goals-against-average (2.08) and save percentage (.930), with only Thomas in his way in both categories.
Rinne was named one of the NHL’s three stars in January, going 8-3-0 in 11 games with a miniscule 1.71 goals-against and a rock-solid .946 save percentage. What makes his totals even more impressive is the fact that he didn’t record any shutouts, showing great consistency and allowing more than two goals just twice.
The Kempele, Finland, native admitted he was ‘honored’ by being named one of the stars for last month. “There are so many good players in this league, so it’s nice to get recognized. I’m honored,” Rinne said.
As was the case in the last two years, Rinne keeps getting better as the season grows older. If he continues to improve down the stretch, teammate Joel Ward feels he should definitely get a look for the Vezina.
“I think he deserves recognition for sure. Obviously he’s one of the top goalies in the league,” Ward said. “Hopefully we can keep winning games for him and he can continue to earn that respect around the league. He definitely deserves to be up there on the Vezina list.”
Rinne’s 19-14-5 record through 38 games doesn’t look all that sexy on paper, but he’s been stealing points for the Preds and has made a lot of key saves in close games.
“Pekka’s got that attitude that he can be a difference-maker every game and he has been,” coach Barry Trotz said. “He was terrific in the month of January. Hopefully he can continue from now through the end of the year.”
At the age of 28, Rinne is still an improving goaltender and has yet to hit his prime. This is his third full season in the NHL, and his first as the go-to-guy in the crease. With a 6’5″ frame and athletic ability out of this world, he still has some room to grow his game.
However, defenseman Shane O’Brien thinks Rinne is already on the same level (or better) than two other goalies he’s played with in recent years — Roberto Luongo and Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
“Peks is way more athletic than both those guys,” O’Brien said, referring to Rinne. “Louie’s a great goalie and Giggy won a Stanley Cup. Taking nothing away from them, but the way Peks can play the puck and some of the saves he makes — he’s one of the best in the world.”
When Rinne went down with a pair of knee injuries in the first half of the year, Predators fans were worried that it may be a lingering issue all year long. But he’s fought through those bumps in the road and has been able to maintain his success.
“I’ve been fortunate to only have short-term injuries,” Rinne said. “I didn’t miss too many games in a row. Any time you miss a lot of time or games to injury, it’s just that much harder to come back. I think the biggest thing was that I was still able to work with my conditioning and stuff like that.”
Whether Rinne actually wins the Vezina (or gets nominated, for that matter) this year or not, this isn’t his last chance to win the award. With untapped potential and a solid team in front of him, Rinne will give the Preds nothing to worry about between the pipes for years to come.