The Sophomore Jinx, Alive And Well In Nashville: Just Ask Pekka Rinne.

Mark RitterSenior Writer IOctober 20, 2009

MONTREAL- JANUARY 15:  Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators watches play during the game against the Montreal Canadiens on January 15, 2009 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Canadiens defeated the Predators 3-2.   (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

Written By: Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter

The Nashville Predators have a reputation of developing good goaltenders, case and point, Dan Ellis and Pekka Rinne. Like a lot of things in life, nothing lasts forever, so too is the case with Nashville’s goaltenders, or so it seems.

Dan Ellis arrived on the NHL scene with little fanfare. But, with the Predators struggling in the regular season, Ellis made the most of his opportunities when called upon to replace former Predators starting goalie Chris Mason, eventually supplanting Mason as the teams starter.

The 2007/08 season saw Ellis play a total of 44 games,. His 23-10-3 record, 2.34 (12th in NHL) goals against average, .924 save percentage (1st in NHL) and six shut outs (T-3rd in NHL) helped catapult the Predators into the playoffs. Ellis had served notice, he was no joke, this kid was the real deal.

Ellis and the Predators faced the ultra-tough Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs that season. Ellis Stopped 71 of 78 shots he faced in the first two games, further proving himself as one of the NHL’s best goalies.

The Predators went on to lose that series in six games, but Ellis stole the show. During that series he appeared to be unbeatable. His calm demeanor and knack for the timely save had people taking notice.

As a reward for his stellar play, Ellis signed a two year $3.5 million deal with the Predators in the offseason. Ellis’ the future was looking bright and, with Ellis between the pipes, so was the Predators.

The 2008/09 season was a different story for Ellis. The Predators started the season off poorly and so did Ellis. As a result of the teams lackluster play, Ellis was asked to take a seat on the bench, which opened the door for another unknown goaltender, Pekka Rinne to impress.

Unfortunately for Ellis, Rinne did impress. As such, Ellis lost his starting job, the goaltender who’s future looked so bright just six months ago had fallen out of favor.

Ellis went on to post an 11-19-4 record, with a 2.93 goals against average and a .900 save percentage, hardly the season the Predators or Ellis were looking for. For his part, Rinne posted an impressive 29-15-4 record, with a 2.38 goals against average and a .917 save percentage and seven shut outs, clearly Rinne earned the starting job.

Rinne, much like Ellis before him, came out of nowhere to have a huge impact on the Predators 2008/09 season. Without Rinne the Predators may very well have been looking at a lottery pick at the 2008/09 draft, as it turned out, the Preds missed the playoffs, placing 10th overall in the Western Conference, but any success they had could be directly attributed to Rinne’s solid play.

As fate would have it, with Ellis seemingly losing his way, the Preds stumbled on Rinne, talk about good fortune!

The 2009/10 season has seen the Predators split the goaltending duties. Ellis has started four games thus far, posting a 2-1-1 record with a 2.80 goals against average and a .903 save percentage, hardly mind boggling numbers, but decent.

As for Rinne, his 2009/10 season has mirrored that of Ellis’ slow start in 2008/09. Rinne has started three games in which he has posted a paltry 0-3-0 record with a disappointing 3.46 goals against average and a .894 save percentage.

There is no telling whether or not Rinne will continue to struggle this season, but if the past teaches us anything, it’s that history repeats itself and that may be bad news for Rinne.

The rise and fall of Ellis and the subsequent teetering of Rinne emphasizes the importance of goaltending depth in the NHL. There are plenty of examples of teams having their number one goaltender go down and the backup saving the day.

Veteran backup goaltender Ty Conklin saved the day for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2007/08 when the Penguins starter Marc-Andre Fleury went down for an extended period and then followed that up by saving the Detroit Red Wings bacon when Wings starter Chris Osgood played horribly in the regular season.

It’s still early in the season, but it looks like the Predators made a great decision by resisting the temptation to trade Ellis this offseason. Without Ellis, the Predators would likely be basement dwellers, something the Music City fateful would not likely tolerate.

It’s too bad really. If Rinne had come out of the blocks on fire, it may have led the Predators to consider trading Ellis. Anyone know a team that wears blue and white that could use a goalie? Just a thought....

Until next time,