USATSI_8329089_154158418_lowresThe Nashville Predators have some bad news with goalie Pekka Rinne out three to five weeks with a sprained knee. The netminder sustained the injury Tuesday in his team’s game against the Vancouver Canucks.

“It doesn’t change anything as far as we go,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “I mean it’s tough to lose players. We’ve been on a little streak here where we’ve lost some players with [Eric] Nystrom being out, [Ryan] Ellis being out, [Taylor] Beck and [Matt] Cullen were out for a little bit. Nothing really changes as far as the game plan goes.”

That’s the standard coaching answer, but one has to imagine this stings a little more than most.

Rinne is, after all, the best goaltender in the National Hockey League at this juncture. He leads with 29 wins in 37 games. He has a second-best .931 save percentage and a second-best 1.96 goals against average. Only Cory Schneider of the New Jersey Devils and Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals have played more games this season, while only Brian Elliot has a better goals against average – and he’s “only” played in 19 games.

Rinne has been at the centre of Vezina talks for some time now and his absence certainly puts a hole in the Nashville lineup. The club has been putting together an impressive season largely on the back of their netminder and there will be a period of adjustment over the next while.

The plan for the immediate future is to re-evaluate Rinne after the All-Star break. Nashville’s backup goalie has been Carter Hutton, who is 0-3-2 in six games this season. That’s not good. The Predators will be calling up Marek Mazanec from Milwaukee to help out.

Getting back to Hutton, those numbers may be deceiving and may be owing in large part to the fact that Rinne’s been such a hot hand this season. His record last season was more reasonable at 20-11-4. He saw more action with Rinne out 51 games due to a hip infection.

Mazanec, meanwhile, saw 25 games with the Predators last season and put up an 8-10-4 record. In other words, Hutton and Mazanec know the score. They aren’t going to be the winningest goalies in the NHL, but they may be able to keep the Predators from sinking in Rinne’s absence.

But no matter how you slice it, this isn’t good news for Nashville and it’s terrible luck for Rinne in a season that looked to be a history-maker.

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