It is easy for anyone to see that Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne already has played a lot this season.
The hard part is for coach Barry Trotz to decide not to put Rinne between the pipes. Or is it?
“October is hard to get your backup goaltender in,” Trotz said. “It’s not hard, I guess — you do it or you don’t.
“Early in the season we weren’t playing well enough, and Pekka was playing so well that we were like, ‘We’re going to ride this pony as far as we can take it.’ ”
December is now days away and the Predators continue to ride Rinne.
As they enter Monday’s game at Edmonton (8:30 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee) Rinne has started 21 of their 22 games. Following Saturday’s 4-1 loss at Detroit, the 29-year-old was one of five NHL goalies who had appeared in at least 20 games and was tied with Montreal’s Carey Price for the most appearances, although Price had played more minutes.
The contest against Edmonton, which is 2-0 against Nashville this season, is the first of three games in four nights for the Predators. It also is the first half of a back-to-back, which concludes Tuesday at Calgary.
“Maybe if you have the schedule in front of you and you go the first 20, or 21 games, yeah probably that way it looks like a lot,” Rinne said. “But once you’re in the rhythm and keeping playing … obviously, you have to be honest with yourself, but energy-wise I think it’s easier at this point of the season.
“Anytime you play 21 games out of 22 it’s a lot, but it doesn’t feel like that.”
Rinne started each of the first 14 — a franchise first — which included all 12 games in October. At this point, he has faced 652 shots and made 603 saves, both of which lead the NHL.
Backup Anders Lindback’s only start was Nov. 8 at Los Angeles, a 4-3 defeat. He also relieved Rinne two times when the score got out of hand early.
“Now you’re getting into those real tough 40 games where … you’re a ways from the start and not going back, and the light at the end of the tunnel — the end of the season — is too far away,” Trotz said. “This is where the mental toughness and the grind really kicks in — from now until February.
“… We have to start using Lindy a little bit more.”
The Predators only have one set of back-to-back games in December, and that leads into the holiday break — Dec. 22 against Columbus and Dec. 23 at Dallas.
Nashville’s franchise record for games played by a goalie is 73, set in 2003-04 by Tomas Vokoun. The record for consecutive games played also belongs to Vokoun and is 38, set in 2002-03.
Rinne admits there are times he thinks he can play virtually every game in a season, although with the Predators having lost four straight this probably is not one of those times.
“When you’re playing well and the team is winning, it gets so much easier,” Rinne said. “I think the biggest thing is mentally. Just to be able to let things go and put things behind you. At least for myself, that’s the biggest thing. But that gets way easier when you’re playing well and the team is winning.
“When you’re going through tough cycles and touch stretches then it’s when you have to really sometimes push yourself and go outside of your comfort zone, challenge yourself a little bit.”