Pekka Rinne

Predators needed more from Rinne

By Jim Diamond

It wasn’t supposed to end like this.

A year after making an improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final, as the last team to qualify for the playoffs mind you, the Nashville Predators won the Presidents’ Trophy this season and looked like they had the first Stanley Cup in team history within their grasp.

The big problem was that the Winnipeg Jets pulled the rug out from under them, and in their own barn too. But as good as the Jets are, and make no mistake, the Jets are good as hell, the Predators just weren’t good enough in the second-round series that ended Thursday night.

Pekka Rinne let in two horrible goals in the first period prior to being yanked, for the third time in the series, in favor of fellow Finn Juuse Saros. The Kyle Turris line was awful for almost of the entirety of the playoffs. Turris, along with wingers Craig Smith and Kevin Fiala combined for five goals in 13 playoff games. And the defense, long the headline-grabbers of the team, had trouble handling the size and speed of the Winnipeg forwards and didn’t contribute a whole lot of offense either.

But in Game 7, Rinne, who will likely win the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top regular season goaltender, couldn’t deny two very stoppable first period shots; one Tyler Myers tough-angle shot that somehow squeaked in between his skate and the left post and then Paul Stastny’s backhander that he harmlessly flipped over his shoulder put Nashville down 2-0 a little more than halfway through the opening period.

Following the game, Rinne was as downtrodden as one could imagine.

“I obviously feel very much responsible for our season ending at this point,” he said. “Tough… tough to swallow, tough to understand. I can’t point on anything. I felt good, no injuries, totally healthy, and total ups and downs throughout the playoffs. Obviously, the biggest moment of the season, it’s a terrible feeling you let your teammates down and that’s what happened tonight. It’s tough to swallow.”

Predictably, his teammates were there to try and take the heat off of him.

“He didn’t let us down,” captain Roman Josi said. “He’s been our best player all year. He’s been unbelievable all year. He’s an unbelievable leader all year. He’s our rock and our best player.”

P.K. Subban went one better, “Listen to me, anyone who wants to criticize, critics who want to criticize him, don’t know what they’re talking about,” Subban said. “I don’t care if they’ve played in the NHL or not. He’s the backbone of our hockey club and he’s one of the main reasons we’re here.”

Whether you know anything about hockey or not, Rinne needed to be better. It’s not a criticism, but a fact. Your backbone can’t get pulled three times in a seven-game series and expect to win that series. His teammates needed to try and pick him up, but when you dig a two-goal hole against the tough Jets, that’s a tough ask.

It’s hard to look at Rinne’s sullen mood and think that it was all Thursday night or all this series.

Rinne is 35 and will turn 36 early next season, the final season of his current contract. He has to feel like his biological clock is ticking much like Mona Lisa Vito’s in “My Cousin Vinny.” Juuse Saros is the future of Nashville’s goaltending crease, but most expected that transition to take place after next season. Now, the picture isn’t so clear. Heading into a contract year, what kind of workload will he be looking at in the 2018-19 season?

You can’t sluff off Rinne’s Vezina-worthy regular season, but his career postseason performances, save for the first three rounds of 2017, have been pedestrian.

They needed him to be better, and he simply wasn’t good enough. Again, neither were a lot of his teammates, but they needed more from him.

It just didn’t happen.

Pekka Rinne on Shea Weber’s shot; ‘It just hurts’


Pekka Rinne (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

By Jim Diamond

Heading into Tuesday night’s matchup against the visiting Montreal Canadiens, many Nashville Predators will be facing former Predators captain Shea Weber for the first time in their NHL careers.

When asked about it following Monday’s practice at Ford Ice Center, they were all looking forward to the new challenge.

Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne has faced countless thousands of Weber shots in practice over the years. He was asked what sets Weber’s shot apart from other players who shoot the puck hard.

“It just hurts,” he said. “He’s a big body and he’s so strong. I guess shooting the puck is also about technique. He has all of those things. It does come hard. It is one of the better shots in the NHL, especially his one-timer. He’s still pretty accurate with it. It’s just so quick, so fast.”

Weber is the two-time defending champion of the NHL’s Hardest Shot Competition at the All-Star weekend’s skills competition. He won last year’s event in Nashville with a shot of 108.1 mph, which was just four-tenths of a mile per hour slower than his 2015 winner.

With eight power-play goals this season, Weber leads all NHL defensemen and is tied for second overall, one behind Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby.

As much as a handful as Weber is in his team’s offensive zone, he is equally difficult on opponents in Montreal’s defensive zone. Weber leads the Canadiens and ranks eighth in the league, averaging 26:02 of ice time per game.

Like Rinne, many of Nashville’s forwards have battled Weber in practice for years. With the intensity that Weber brings to the practice ice, his former teammates know that they are in for a long evening Tuesday.

“It’s going to be very different,” said Colin Wilson. “In today’s game, a lot of the accolades go to the real offensive defensemen and Webby, his defensive play is unparalleled. He’s unbelievable down there. He’s so strong. Even in practice, 3-on-3s, his strength is pretty incredible.”

Filip Forsberg has been on an offensive tear lately, posting five goals in his last six games. He knows that battling against Weber will be tough, but he is looking forward to seeing how he measures up against him.

“You always want to match yourself up against the best, and he’s definitely one of them out there,” Forsberg said.

Throughout his NHL career, no one has had a better view of the work Weber does in the defensive zone than Rinne.

“A player like him, there’s no other player like him in the league,” Rinne said. “The things that he brings; his strength, his ability to move guys and stuff like that, I don’t think there’s another guy like him.”

David Poile sent Weber to Montreal in exchange for P.K. Subban in a late June blockbuster trade. Poile spoke with the media following Monday’s practice. A large number of Montreal scribes were there to hear Poile’s thoughts.

“I see now where Shea is probably getting the recognition that he deserved,” Poile said. “We’re a little under the radar here in Nashville media wise, not today. Shea was, I think, in the top three for the Norris Trophy three times. I think he should have won it at least once and he didn’t. I think that in Montreal, with all due respect to Nashville, that he might have already won a Norris Trophy. And maybe this year in Montreal and getting all of the recognition that he is, maybe this will be the year that he wins the Norris Trophy.”

Rinne takes the loss, but teammates share blame in his slide

Pekka Rinne (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Pekka Rinne (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

By Jim Diamond

It didn’t end the way he intended, but Peter Laviolette’s decision to start Pekka Rinne in goal Tuesday night against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks was the right move to make.

Yes, Rinne has struggled for most of this season, and he’s been mediocre at best for the last month or so, but if this Predators team has any hope of going anywhere, like say the playoffs, they are going to need Rinne to be the one who gets them there.

At 33, Rinne still has some time left to regain his standing as one of the NHL’s elite goaltenders, but that window won’t be open forever. And if the Predators hope to contend for a Cup anytime soon, they will need the 6’5” Finn to get back to the form that has seen him be a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist.

With Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Blackhawks, the Predators have dropped six of their last seven, and Rinne was between the pipes for all but one of those losses, and he wasn’t the one who earned the lone victory either, that was a Carter Hutton shutout of the Minnesota Wild Saturday night.

In stopping just 23 of the 26 Chicago shots he faced Tuesday, Rinne’s save percentage for 2015-16 fell to .901, which would be the lowest of his eight NHL seasons.

“Obviously my play hasn’t been anywhere near where it should be or I want it to be,” Rinne said. “Obviously working trying to do everything I can, trying to work through it, trying to get back up there and gain some confidence going forward. It’s been hard.”

There is plenty of blame to be shared among the team though, as the team in front of Rinne was poor at times Tuesday, symbolic of many of the previous games in which the end result was a Nashville loss. And against a team as dangerous as the Blackhawks, who won their 12th in a row Tuesday, any mistakes usually end up in the back of your net.

On Chicago’s first goal, Filip Forsberg turned over a puck inside the Nashville zone moments before Artem Anisimov made a nice move around a sliding Rinne in the first period’s final seconds.

In the second, Richard Panik doubled the Blackhawks lead on a shot that Rinne probably should have stopped, but the play probably shouldn’t have been allowed to develop as it did. In the neutral zone, Anthony Bitetto tried to hit Paul Gaustad with a pass at the blue line. It missed and Chicago turned the play back toward the Nashville zone.

Chicago’s third goal came on a Patrick Kane breakaway after Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm lost track of the league’s leading scorer. That goal came just a minute after Ellis made it a 2-1 game early in the second, a momentum changing swing for sure.

Following the game, Predators head coach Peter Laviolette was not pleased with some of the errors his team made in the loss.

“Defensively we didn’t let up a lot,” he said. “There weren’t a lot quality chances. There weren’t a lot of shots, but the ones that we let up, there’s three or four (or) five of them that I’d like back because they were too big. The chances were too big.”

Nashville begins a pre-All-Star break four-game road swing through Western Canada Thursday in Winnipeg.

Pekka Rinne – Nashville’s Masterton Trophy nominee for the 2014-15 season

By Jim Diamond

For the second time in his career, Pekka Rinne has been named as the Predators’ Masterton Trophy nominee for the 2014-15 season as selected by the Nashville chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association. The award is presented on behalf of, and voted upon by, the membership of the PHWA.

After a 2013-14 season that was taxing both physically and mentally, Rinne is enjoying a bounce back campaign and has led the Predators back to the playoffs after missing out the last two seasons.

Following an offseason hip surgery, Rinne developed an E. coli infection in that same hip in October 2014, sidelining him for 51 games. After the potentially life-threatening infection cleared up, he returned for the final month of the season and played for Finland at the 2014 World Championships, where he was named MVP.

Rinne carried over his strong performance at the worlds into this season. He is tied for the NHL lead in wins with 41.

In the summer of 2006, Rinne was injured by a Finnish pizzeria shop owner, who attacked the goaltender with pepper spray and then tackled him to the ground, causing an injury to his shoulder, which required surgery to correct.

To scout Rinne, the Predators had to show up early to Karpat games. Rinne was the backup goaltender, so they had to make their observations based on warmups. Nashville took him in the eighth round (258th overall) in 2004 when he was 21-years-old.

To put his late draft position into perspective, the NHL Draft now consists of just seven rounds and a total of 210 picks.

Rinne didn’t become an NHL starter until he was 27, but he has now surpassed 200 wins. He leads the franchise in wins and shutouts.

Rinne is active in Best Buddies of Tennessee, which works with individuals who have developmental disabilities. Rinne and team captain Shea Weber have purchased suites to all home games, where they host pediatric cancer patients and their families. 

After long journey, astronaut brings Pekka Rinne jersey back to Nashville

By Jim Diamond

Four years after making its historic ride into space aboard Space Shuttle Discovery in early 2011, the Pekka Rinne jersey that flew aboard mission STS-133 has returned to Nashville courtesy of Colonel Tim Kopra (U.S. Army, Ret.), the man who was responsible for its out of this world flight.

Tim Morrell, Kopra’s brother-in-law and day one Predators season ticket holder, had the idea to send the Rinne jersey into space on Discovery, an idea sparked by Canadian astronaut Julie Payette, who brought a Maurice Richard Montreal Canadiens jersey along on STS-127, which was Kopra’s first space flight.

Morrell thought the Rinne jersey would be apropos, since Kopra’s grandparents immigrated to the United States from Finland in 1914.

“I’m very proud of the fact that my grandparents came over from Finland way back in 1914 and I grew up with this knowledge of my Finnish heritage,” Kopra said.

In his first trip into space, Kopra brought along a Finnish Kalevala Medal, sent to him by then Finnish president Tarja Halonen. Upon his return, he presented the medal back to the president.

Kopra said that following their retirement, his parents spent a year in Finland researching their genealogy and established connection with several relatives while they were there.

“Now I have 60-70 close or feel-close relatives that live in Finland,” Kopra said. “We had an opportunity after I flew in 2009 to go over there and it was like this family reunion of all these people that I had never met that were actually my blood. After that, I gained a huge appreciation for my Finnish heritage.”

Kopra has gained an appreciation of hockey through Morrell and his wife Beth. Beth Morrell and Kopra’s wife Dawn are sisters. The Morrells brought the Kopras to their first-ever hockey game in 2007 in Nashville.

After several months of delays, STS-133 took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida Feb. 24, 2011, only Kopra was not aboard Discovery when it launched. Prior to the flight, Kopra broke his leg in a bicycling accident, a lower-body injury that meant he had to be scratched from the mission.

“If you have to pick particular lows in a professional career, that would be about as low as you can get because in our business, everything you do is focused on your space flight,” Kopra said. “I’m grateful that it didn’t happen on my first flight because I think it would be even more devastating, but to lose a fly opportunity especially after there have been flight attempts and you are trained up and you are ready to go and you are the lead spacewalker, it was fairly devastating.”

Kopra was unable to fly on Discovery, but the personal items he had arranged to go into space on the mission, including the dark blue Rinne jersey, did make it.

Devastating as it was to not go, Kopra was still able to assist with the mission from the ground. He said the accident also opened the door to his next flight. Launching in November, he will be a flight engineer for Expedition 46 and the commander for Expedition 47, a mission that will keep him in space for six months aboard the International Space Station.

On this trip, Kopra is anticipating there being at least two spacewalks, something he called “a pinnacle” of space flight.

“It’s eye-watering because when you open that hatch, you look down at the planet and it is moving at five miles a second,” he said. “You have to have complete trust in the space suit that you have and your training.”

Asked if he had always dreamed of being an astronaut, Kopra said, “I didn’t think about it until I was about six. It’s really interesting, for a lot of people in our office, they were motivated at a very young age. Something about having a dream that’s captured when you are young really takes you.”

By the time he had reached 18, Kopra thought that the goal of being an astronaut was unachievable. But during Kopra’s first, or plebe, year at the United States Military Academy at West Point, several Apollo astronauts who had graduated from West Point spoke at the school. After hearing them speak, Kopra realized that his childhood dream was achievable.

Kopra is set to meet Rinne following Saturday’s morning skate at Bridgestone Arena. Later that evening, Kopra will drop the puck for the ceremonial faceoff prior to Nashville’s game against the visiting Buffalo Sabres.

Kopra has ties to the Nashville area. For three years, he was stationed at Fort Campbell as a member of the 101st Airborne Division.

Tough but necessary first game back from injury for Pekka Rinne

In the end, the game goes down as a 5-2 loss, but for the Predators, and more importantly Pekka Rinne, the game was not nearly as bad as the final score would indicate.

After three weeks on the shelf with a knee injury sustained January 13th against the Vancouver Canucks, it was expected that Rinne would have some rust as he returned to the lineup Thursday night against the visiting Anaheim Ducks.

But rust combined with some seriously bad (borrowing a phrase from Barry Trotz) puck luck, added up to one night Rinne and the rest of his teammates would like to forget.

Things started off on a positive note even, with Rinne turning aside the first Duck shot on him early in the first when he stopped Jakob Silfverberg from the right side on a shorthanded attempt. The problems started immediately thereafter when Rinne thought he was going to hand the rebound off to Shea Weber, but Weber looked as though he thought the big Finn was going to cover the puck and get a faceoff. Silfverberg recognized the miscommunication, grabbed the puck, and flipped a backhand just underneath the crossbar.

“I was going to play it and keep the play going,” Rinne said. “Our guys were yelling at the same time. ‘Keep it, keep it,’ and then I was kind of between, didn’t really do anything. He was able to poke it off of me and just got it in front of the net and put it in.”

It was a goal that set the tone for the rest of the game.

“Obviously not the way we wanted to start, but the whole game was not good to begin with,” Weber said.

Later in the first, a Sami Vatanen shot deflected off Gabriel Bourque and by Rinne who couldn’t have seen it, making the game 2-0.

Early in the second, Matt Beleskey and Silfverberg scored goals 43 seconds apart to extend the lead to 4-0.

Following the second Silfverberg goal, Predators head coach Peter Laviolette called his one allotted timeout. Goalies don’t always come to the bench during a timeout, but Rinne did on this one, and then something interesting happened.

Laviolette walked to the end of the bench and spoke with Rinne as assistant coach Phil Housley addressed the rest of the team.

“I just wanted to make sure he was okay. I wanted to make sure that physically he was okay, mentally he was okay,” Laviolette said. “I think just coming back off a break like that, I’d rather have a conversation; maybe he wasn’t feeling that good. Everything was fine. I think staying in and battling like he did makes him better. He made some tremendous saves out there.”

Physically Rinne was fine, so there was no way he was going to come out of the game.

“It was good for me to get the minutes and get the full game under my belt,” Rinne said. “You can’t duplicate games in practices. Even though it wasn’t super busy for me, I was still tired, my legs were burning. It was three weeks off for me, now get it going again. I don’t see any more excuses after this one.”

Rinne finished with 21 saves on 25 shots faced. Corey Perry’s empty-net goal accounted for the final scoring margin.

In the end it was a loss, but a necessary step in what the Predators hope is Rinne’s return to pre-injury form. A form that earned him 29 victories and a .931 save percentage entering Thursday night. That same form the team will need him to revert back to if they wish to make a run far into the postseason, maybe even a late May matchup with those same Ducks.

Now healthy, Pekka Rinne expects to play a lot in 2014-15

By Jim Diamond

When Barry Trotz was the head coach of the Predators, one of his go-to phrases when talking about the team’s goaltending was that he was going to ride Pekka Rinne “like Seabiscuit.” Prior to each season Trotz and goaltending coach Mitch Korn had a plan for the number of games their team’s top netminder was going to play, but circumstances often dictated a change to that schedule.

Now under the direction of new head coach Peter Laviolette, the Predators begin their 2014-15 season Thursday night at home against the visiting Ottawa Senators. Following the team’s Tuesday afternoon practice at Bridgestone Arena, Laviolette said that there is no master plan in place as to how he will use his goaltenders in his first season at the helm in Nashville.

“I think it usually develops as the season goes on,” he said. “You can have a plan I think at the start of the year, but depending on where you are at in the standings and goalie being hot, I think it always changes a little bit.”

After the conclusion of the 2012-13 season, Rinne had surgery on his left hip. He worked hard to get ready for the start of last season and was between the pipes when the puck dropped for the team’s first game Oct. 3.

Fewer than three weeks later, Rinne fell ill and was hospitalized the morning after Nashville’s Oct. 22 at Minnesota. Rinne had developed a dangerous E. coli infection in that same left hip. The repair of and recovery from that infection kept Rinne out of the lineup until early March. The 6’5” Finn missed 51 games.

Now healthy, Rinne is looking forward to getting back to the form where his coach wants him in the game each night.

“Personally, I expect myself to play a lot of games and stay healthy,” Rinne said. “To me, I am just going to focus on starting the season well and keep it going after that. Obviously anytime I feel like I am on top of my game, I want to play every night.”

After a lockout shortened the 2012-13 season to just 48 games and the Winter Olympics compacted last season’s schedule, the 2014-15 season will have a feeling of normalcy to the players and coaches. Rinne wants to get back to the form that made him a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist in 2011 and 2012. In 2011, he finished fourth in the voting for the Hart Trophy, given to the league’s most valuable player.

“I’m excited about this year since for the first time in a couple of years, it is going to be a normal season, a normal schedule,” Rinne said. “It is not going to be so random as the last couple of years; the lockout year and the Olympic year.”

When Laviolette wants to give Rinne a rest, he will turn to Carter Hutton, who is entering his second full NHL season. Prior to last season, Hutton had one game of NHL action on his resume, and with being Rinne’s backup, he wasn’t expecting to see a lot of playing time last season. All of that changed with Rinne’s hip infection.

“Mitch and Barry kind of put a number on how many games I was going to play and what they expected and needed from me,” Hutton said. “Things changed with Pekks going down, obviously I was seeing a lot more action. It was kind of a whirlwind for my first NHL season, but I think it helped me develop. I learned a lot and learned different experiences at this level.”

After a strong start, Hutton hit a rough patch. He worked through that tough stretch and finished the season with 20 wins, including seven in his last nine decisions. That performance was good enough to earn him a new two-year, $1.45 million contract in the offseason.

“Coming into this year, just continue to be good when I am called upon, win my games,” Hutton said. “That’s what it’s about winning hockey games in this league. No matter who is going, me or Pekka, this team is going to give us a good chance to win.”

The Predators finished just three points out of eighth place in the Western Conference last season. With all of the changes made behind the bench and up front with the forwards, the team hopes to add some more scoring punch in 2014-15. Combine those changes with a healthy Rinne and a more experienced Hutton in goal, Nashville hopes to end their two-year playoff absence.