By Jim Diamond
If all goes according to Barry Trotz’s plan, Carter Hutton will get the start in goal Sunday night in Nashville’s season finale in St. Paul against the Minnesota Wild.
The Predators were eliminated from playoff contention with Tuesday’s shootout loss in Dallas, so this will be the last time the 2013-14 Predators take to the ice together. When Hutton leads the team onto the Xcel Energy Center playing surface Sunday, he will be looking for win number 20 on the season.
Trotz sees the 20 wins as more than just a number.
“I’d like to see Carter get 20,” Trotz said Friday when announcing that Pekka Rinne would start Saturday and Hutton Sunday. “If you can get 20 wins in this league as a goaltender, he came in as the backup goaltender, I don’t think you are going to find too many guys that do that. That’s a goal that I would like to have for him and I think that he would like to have himself. That’s like a 20-goal scorer; you’re a 19-goal scorer, almost a 20-goal scorer, you’d like to be that 20-goal scorer.”
Entering Sunday, there are 23 goaltenders with more wins than Hutton this season. All but one of those netminders, Anaheim’s Frederik Andersen being the lone exception, have more games played and games started than Hutton.
Signed in the offseason to a one-year, two-way contract to be Rinne’s backup, it didn’t appear that Hutton would see a whole lot of action. Rinne was coming off hip surgery performed at the conclusion of last season, but was expected to carry his normal heavy workload this season. That plan was derailed in late October, when Rinne developed an E. coli infection in that same hip, which kept him sidelined until late in the season.
Hutton, who entered the season with just one game of NHL experience, was thrust into the starting role. With their world-class goaltender coming off of a major offseason surgery, relying on him to carry his traditional amount of games was probably shortsighted of the team’s brass going into the season, having such an NHL neophyte second in line behind Rinne, but that was the path they chose.
Rookie Marek Mazanec was recalled from Milwaukee and Trotz looked for consistency from both of his goaltenders as the team struggled through the early months of the season.
“Carter and Maz, we couldn’t give them any confidence, confidence has to be earned,” Trotz said. “They had to earn the confidence of our team, and their play was so inconsistent. Carter could give you one good game, but he couldn’t give you three in a row. Maz could do the same. If you watched them, I tried to ride one for a while and that wouldn’t work, so I would go back to the other one and he’d get one game and he’d get two games, and then we would have a crash. I could have flip-flopped them. I tried a little bit of both and it really was a moving target.”
It should be noted that for a majority of the season, the team struggled to give either of those goaltenders much help in the form of goals scored. The recent offensive explosion the team has experienced is in stark contrast to what they achieved for most of the season, so placing the blame for the team’s struggles only on the goaltenders would be inaccurate.
But with the Predators now scoring goals, and Hutton finding some consistency in his game, he has a chance to finish the season with an impressive 20 victories. That’s not a bad statistic for Hutton’s resume, as he is slated to be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.