Even with such an advantage, the Predators are not getting out of it what they should be able to. And this is not because anybody is underperforming, this is entirely due to John Hynes’ deployment of his goaltenders.
Just looking at the number of games each goaltender has played in, Saros has played in 34 games, and Rittich has played in five. In fairness, Rittich would have a few more starts under his belt if he was not forced to take a long COVID-19 hiatus in October, but that stat is alarming considering that he was brought in to be a reliable backup for Saros. It is even more stunning that one of those five games includes the Predators’ blowout loss in Montreal, in which Saros was pulled mid-game.
There has not been one game this year that Rittich has started that was not due to complete necessity. Such games have included the back half of back-to-backs and the two games in which Saros sat due to a non-COVID-19 illness.
And it is not as if this is a new thing, Hynes has always had a tendency to play his elite goaltender when he should not be played. The Edmonton bubble is a perfect example, as Saros played all four games for the Predators, including both games in a back-to-back scenario.
Even last year, Hynes played Saros on both April 26 and April 27 because he was on a hot streak at the time. And both of these decisions backfired, as Saros gave up 3 goals on a few shots in the former game, and he gave up six in the latter.
Just this year, it is not implausible to think that the Predators are going to wear him out before the playoffs start. Goaltenders are supposed to get a rest every now and then aside from back-to-backs, and Saros has not gotten that once this year.
Before January 18, he played all nine games in a stretch from January 1 to January 17. Do you not think he could have benefitted from sitting at least one of those nights, especially with the Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres being in that stretch? It is admirable that Saros has performed as well as he has, because most goaltenders in the NHL should not be able to handle that workload.
There might be the argument that Rittich should not be played because he has not done well when he has been in the crease, but if you are averaging less than two starts a month, it is difficult if not impossible to perform consistently. When Saros was the backup to Pekka Rinne in his first year, it felt like he was playing once a week at a minimum, and he was able to get better and better over time because of the opportunity he was getting. That is not to say that Rittich should get that many starts, but a minimum of once every two weeks seems fair for what he was brought in to do.
And if you are really that uncomfortable with Rittich playing, the Predators have another young goaltender in Connor Ingram who has shown promise. Although I think Rittich is just fine as a backup, especially since there was a time in which he had a real chance to be the main guy in Calgary.
The goaltender is such a physically demanding position, and the Predators need to realize that and give Saros some needed rests every now and then.
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