NHL Playoffs: Is Pekka Rinne Beginning to Falter for the Predators?

John B Matheson@@JB_WebberCorrespondent IApril 30, 2012

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 29:  Goaltender Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators makes a save on the shot from the Phoenix Coyotes in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Jobing.com Arena on April 29, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Predators 5-3. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

In the first round against Detroit, Pekka Rinne showed why he was nominated for the Vezina Trophy for the past two seasons. So far in the series with Phoenix, you would think that it was a different person in net, leaving fans to question if he has begun to falter.

During the last two games Rinne has watched his stats plummet, from a .944 save percentage to a .919. Even his goals allowed has dropped significantly from a 1.81 to a 2.51. It seems that Phoenix has figured out the mystery that eluded Detroit.

Phoenix has been outplaying the defensive game, and while in Game 1 the Coyotes were out-shot, they hung on to win in overtime on a goal off the face-off.

Any doubt that the Coyotes had about scoring on the then hot netminder, has been placed aside. They seem to have figured him out. With nine goals already put past him, Rinne is looking less confident on the ice with each passing goal.

It hasn't been all Rinne's fault; the Predators are getting beat at their own game by Phoenix.

There have been a few goals, however, that the Round 1 Pekka Rinne would have easily stopped (like the Mikkel Boedker goal in the first game).

Boedker stopped right in front of the net and looked as though he was going to pass the puck across the crease. Instead, he placed the puck in between Rinne's five-hole. Gauging from the Nashville netminders reaction, he was angry he let that one go in.

With the exception of Vrbata's goal in the second when the Predators' David Legwand tossed the puck over the net to the waiting Vrbata, most of the goals in Sunday's game came down once again to Rinne not being able to handle the puck.

When Vrbata charged the net and passed to Hanzel in what was dubbed “The reverse five-hole” by James Gralian. Rinne looked as though he was lost on the play, expecting a wrap-around attempt instead of a pass through his own legs.

Then there was Shane Doan's marker in the third; it seemed like the Nashville goalie lost the puck as it just bounced around him.

It can be argued that some of Phoenix's nine goals were lucky breaks, but most of them have been lucky because of bad positioning by Rinne. They definitely haven't been pretty, and many of the goals should have been easy saves.

Having allowed as many goals in the past two games as he did in all of Round 1, Rinne looks shaky on the ice. In fact, only Brodeur and the tandem in Philly have a worse save percentages for teams who have made it to the second round.

Even coach Barry Trotz has come forward to take some of the blame off Rinne, stating that “it's the team in front of him” in regards to many of the goals, as reported by The Tennessean.

It stands to reason that the Nashville players need to return to the way they played against Detroit (Rinne included). Rinne has already proven he is one of the game's best goaltenders, although his sloppy play in the last two games seems to have some questioning it.

For a series that was expected to be low scoring and netminder-reliant, we have already seen 15 goals between the two teams, and Phoenix has only out-shot their opponent once in this postseason—That was in Game 2 with Nashville.

It could be that Rinne is feeling the pressure of his team relying on him to win games, but if that is the case Nashville may not make it past the second round. The offense has been there for Nashville, having scored six goals in this series.

The defense was abysmal in Game 2, then again, Rinne was clearly not playing like he was when given a contract extension.

He has looked frustrated on the ice and seems to be losing the puck a lot more. He does need his team's defense to play better than they did in Sunday's game, but he also has some room for improvement that he needs to make.

Hopefully, he can recover from these games when the series returns to Nashville. If his play doesn't improve quickly, the Predators will be looking at a three-game deficit. Even going to backup goaltender Anders Lindback may not help (not that young Swede isn't talented).

Coming back from a 0-3 series is tough for any team.

The Predators need the version of Pekka Rinne from the first round, not the version that has faltered in the first two games of this series. Otherwise, they will have the long offseason to mull over the letdown of this series, just as they did last year with Vancouver.