Thursday, August 16, 2012
Nashville Predators superstar goaltender Pekka Rinne played in 73 games during the regular season last year, which tied Anaheim's Jonas Hiller for the most games played by a goaltender in the 2011-12 season.
Now that veteran goaltender Chris Mason will once again take his place between the pipes in Music City, will the Predators expect him to take some of Rinne's heavy regular season workload off his shoulders?
"That gets talked about all the time. Just like last year, there's a plan and then there's what really happens," said Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile.
Last season, Anders Lindback played in a total of 16 games for the Predators and posted a below average 5-8-0 record. While there is no question regarding Lindback's talent, his on-ice results simply weren't as good as they were in his first season with the Predators where he posted an 11-5-2 record.
"He didn't play as well last year as he did the year before. If you remember, in his first year, the first game of the season Pekka got hurt in the first game. Lindback came in in the first game here at home. Then we went to Chicago, who won the Stanley Cup, and we beat Chicago in no small part to how well he played," Poile said.
Things changed for Lindback in his second season with the Predators. A lot of it had to do with the fact that he simply wasn't playing often enough to establish any sort of rhythm. There were several different occasions throughout the season where Lindback would go nearly a month without making an appearance in a game. Even when he did get in the game, Lindback didn't get much goal support from his teammates. Whatever the reason, the Predators weren't winning a whole lot of games when Lindback was in net.
"(Lindback) couldn't seem to get the wins for us. He was just off a little bit. In fairness to him, he got to be playing so irregularly," Poile said.
With Nashville locking up Rinne to a long-term contract that will keep him in Nashville for the next seven years, they decided to deal Lindback to Tampa Bay in exchange for some draft picks this past summer. Lindback has a bright NHL future but he simply wasn't going to develop properly in Nashville sitting behind Rinne.
After Lindback's departure, the Predators decided to bring in a familiar, veteran presence in Mason to fill the role of backup goaltender. Mason brings quality NHL experience to the backup position and together with Rinne forms arguably the best goaltending duo in the league. Given all of his experience not only in the NHL but in Nashville as well, it's likely that Barry Trotz and the coaching staff will be more comfortable putting Mason in games that they may not have been with Lindback.
If Mason is able to take some of the heavy workload off of Rinne, it could benefit the Predators in the long-haul. A more rested Rinne in the latter half of the season would obviously benefit the Predators. After all, Rinne is arguably the best goalie in the league when he's on his game. It certainly seems like the Predators are planning on reducing Rinne's workload during the regular season. Of course, that's a lot easier said than done.
"There will be a game plan of all the opportunities where Chris Mason will play games. I would say it would be 57-25. Something like that. I would say that's probably where we start," Poile said.
If the Predators able able to get 25 games out of Mason while still competing for the Central Division crown, that could be a major plus for them heading into the postseason next year. However, in a league that has more parity than ever before, Rinne may have to play close to 70 games out of necessity.
"It's a little bit of a balancing act,' Poile said. 'But, again, you've got to make the playoffs first, and there's no shortcuts to getting there."
(Photo Credit: Leanne Charles)