The Nashville Predators did have questions in regard to goalie Pekka Rinne at the start of the season, but none of them involved whether or not he could play.
The 28-year-old answered those when he went 61-31-9 over the past two seasons and emerged at the top of the organizational depth chart.
Franchise officials wondered, therefore, how many games Rinne should play this season. It was an issue of balance between the need to win as many games as possible during the regular season and to make sure he still was healthy and sharp enough to help them win in the postseason.
With 18 games remaining in this season and the Predators in the thick of a furious playoff chase, the answer no seems obvious: as many as it takes.
“I think this really establishes him,” General Manager David Poile said. “This is all about him being a No. 1. He’s going to be one of the reasons we make the playoffs. I certainly think we’re tied into him playing almost all the games.”
Tuesday’s 2-1 shootout loss at Edmonton was Rinne’s 12th straight appearance (his longest stretch of the season) and his 28th start in the last 31 games.
With 47 appearances overall, he is poised to surpass his career-high of 58 set in 2009-10 and to join Tomas Vokoun as the only goalies in franchise history to play more than 60 in a season. Vokoun did it three times.
That despite a knee injury sustained in the season opener, which caused him to sit out the next three contests, and then another one, which required surgery that sidelined him for the first three weeks of December.
Up next is Vancouver, the Western Conference’s second-highest scoring team, Thursday in the second of a four-game road trip out West. On Sunday comes Calgary, a team Rinne never has beaten.
A heavy load down the stretch is nothing new for him. Rinne appeared in 25 of the final 31 (14 of the last 15), last season and 26 of the final 29 (the last 14) in 2008-09.
In those cases, though, coaches knew they had the option to go with another veteran, Dan Ellis, if need be.
This season, their only other choice is rookie Anders Lindback, who went 3-0-1 in his first four appearances and won five straight at one point when Rinne was out with the knee injury.
“We talked about the beginning of the season about ideal situations and not burning out your goaltender and what have you, and then we didn’t even know if we had a second goaltender at that time,” Poile said. “Then Pekka gets hurt in the first game and Lindback goes in and plays a few games, then Pekka got hurt again and Lindback went in again.
“He’s had his rest period.”
Now it’s time for him to play.