For Pekka Rinne, only one number on the scoreboard matters

Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at 10:05pm
Pekka Rinne 

For someone in Pekka Rinne’s position, the numbers often lie.

A goalie can interpret every 1, 2, 3 or 4 on the scoreboard multiple ways, including the wrong one.

“It’s hard to be honest with yourself because a lot of times when you lose a game 2-1, 3-2 or something like that — you can look at the game, look at the stats, and you played a great game but it doesn’t feel like that,” Rinne said. “Then you play a game where you win 4-2 and you give up two soft goals, you still feel like you played a great game because you won.”

Thus there is but one number a goalie can trust. Zero. If, at the end of a game, the opponents’ score reads ‘0,’ any netminder can trust that he performed his job properly, exceptionally even. 

Rinne, now in his fourth full season with the Nashville Predators, has known that peace of mind more frequently than any other goalie in franchise history — and he has experienced it at regular intervals throughout his playing career, which dates back to his days in Finland’s junior ranks.

When he stopped 33 shots in a 2-0 victory at Calgary on Oct. 22, Rinne tied Tomas Vokoun’s record for shutouts by a Predator with his 21st. Rinne got there in his 183rd career game. Vokoun (see story below) spent eight seasons in Nashville and collected his 21 over 383 contests.

He made the record his own six nights later with a 3-0 victory over Anaheim.

Rinne notched a franchise-record seven in each of his first two seasons and six in 2010-11. The one at Calgary made it three years in a row he notched his first before the end of October. Vokoun never had more than five during his time with the Predators.

“I’ve been fortunate to play behind good team defense all these years,” he said. “You start the game 0-0, and I try to keep that 0 up there as long as possible. Hopefully there’s many more to come.”

It’s no secret that a shutout requires more than just a quality effort from the man in the nets. In No. 21, for example, Rinne got some much-needed help when defenseman Jonathon Blum swept a puck off the goal line, and out of harm’s way, when play got scrambled around the net.

Still, Rinne was proficient in putting up zeros long before he arrived in Nashville. In 84 career games over three seasons with Karpat Jr. in Finland’s junior league, he averaged one shutout every 7.6 games. He notched one every five games during his brief time (25 appearances) with Karpat Oulu in Finland’s top division.

His adjustment to play in North America took a little time, as evidenced by the fact that he had just one every 13.2 games for Milwaukee. In Nashville, it was once every 8.7 outings at the time he matched the franchise record.

“There will be times when the team plays really well and Pekks will go, ‘Geez, I didn’t make three really decent saves all night,’ ” coach Barry Trotz said. “When he’s playing well and seeing the puck and all of that, he’s as good as there is in this business.

“The shutout in Calgary, Pekks had a lot to do with that. They had a lot of good chances.”

The goalie is not necessarily inclined to agree with others’ assessments of his play, no matter how consistent those others are in their feelings. Yet every so often — about once every nine games, in Rinne’s case — there is no room for debate.

“I think the winning dictates more than anything the way you feel,” Rinne said. “But every time you get a shutout you have to be happy with yourself and give yourself a break, at least, once in a while.”  




Vokoun gone, not forgotten

It took Pekka Rinne far fewer games to equal Tomas Vokoun’s franchise record of 21 career shutouts with the Nashville Predators. He needed less than half the appearances, in fact to get to the same number.

Between the two of them, they account for well over half of all the shutouts in franchise history.

“It’s a great organization,” Rinne said. “There’s been good goalies and, obviously, probably the biggest one was Tomas Vokoun, who played a lot of games here. It’s nice to be up there with shutouts. I’m honored that we have been able to accomplish that.”

Vokoun, though, virtually has been Rinne’s equal in that regard over the past three seasons.

He never had more than five shutouts in a single season with Nashville, but in the last three years with Florida he had six, seven and six, respectively, for a total of 19. Rinne had 20 over the same period.

Now a member of the Washington Capitals, Vokoun is off to the best start of his career. He signed with Washington as a free agent last summer at the relative bargain rate of $1.5 million for one season and won his first six starts, the last of those against Detroit in a matchup of this season’s last two unbeaten teams.

Four days prior to Rinne’s first shutout of 2011-12, Vokoun got his when he stopped all 20 shots he faced against his former tem, Florida.

Vokoun remains the Predators’ all-time leader in wins (161) and games played by a goalie (383) and still has the two highest single-season win totals with 36 in 2005-06 and 34 in 2003-04.

“I spent a couple training camps with him,” Rinne said. “He was really nice to me and always really supportive. He’s off to a great start with Washington. So he’s still a great goalie.”

— David Boclair