Is there a goalie transition going on for Predators from Pekka Rinne to Juuse Saros?
ST. LOUIS — The script hasn't been flipped. Not completely.
But the pages are turning at a more rapid rate these days.
Pekka Rinne's title, officially, is not yet: Predators backup goalie.
Those words, strung together in that order, might as well have been written in hieroglyphics before this season.
But attached to them are some strands of truth, some stitches of reality.
Predators coach John Hynes isn't ready to label Juuse Saros his team's starter, or Rinne its backup. But for now, that's what the reality is.
Further evidence presented itself Saturday when Saros started for the fifth time in six games.
Saros also played 39 minutes, 2 seconds in relief of Rinne during a 6-2 loss to the Canucks, meaning Rinne had played 20:58 in those six games.
That's by far Rinne's longest relationship with the bench during his Predators career – barring injuries – which began full-time in 2008-09.
Saturday's 4-3 victory was the first of a home-and-home, back-to-back with the Blues, so Rinne likely was going to get the call to start Sunday.
While Rinne has been out a lot lately, he's hardly been down.
"I totally understand," Rinne said. "I'm sure they have some kind of game plan, but at this time of year, we're fighting for our lives here. It's playoff time for us. I'm just trying to be a good teammate, trying to work on my game.
"At the same time, I love watching Juuse do well. Anything that helps the team."
Saros has been doing well. He's 5-1-0 in his past seven appearances (including his relief appearance). He's faced 215 shots, saved 199 of them and has a 2.27 goals-against average and a 93% save percentage.
Changing of the guard?
Rinne, 37, is so used to being the person who is called upon in such situations. Has been the main man in goal for years.
So how does he balance that with what is going on now?
It helps that he and Saros are genuinely close.
"It's a good question. ... Since I started here, I don't think I've ever had stretches of not playing three games in a row, ever, unless I was injured," he said. "It's been an adjustment for sure. But I feel like I'm dealing with it better now, maybe better (than I would have) a month ago.
"It's been (a) challenging year for me personally. In that sense, it's easier to understand."
Going into Sunday, Rinne was 4-8-0 in his past 12 starts, with a .893 save percentage. His .895 save percentage for the year is the lowest of his career, and his 3.31 goals-against his highest by far.
Rinne said he tries to live in the moment, that he isn't sure how he would have reacted to such limited playing time a year ago or a month ago. He wouldn't have been throwing sticks or demanding a trade, but it would have weighed on his mind much more.
While he feels like he still has a lot to offer before his contract expires after next season, he does understand there is a transition going on at goalie. Has been for a few years since Saros arrived.
He knows retirement is inevitable. He's just not ready to start thinking about it too much just yet.
"I don't want to go that far, talking about retirement, " Rinne said. "But yeah, it's clear. I have one more year on my contract. I haven't thought beyond that. But you're right, it's happening. At this point you have to put your priorities right and straight and find a way to still have an impact – if it's outside the ice, on the ice, whatever it is. ... When it's my turn, play better and be able to find my game."
Hynes said the Predators are going to need both goalies down the stretch. But he can play only one at a time. That one lately has been Saros.
"There is no transition going on," Hynes said. "We're just making decisions game by game. Juuse has the hot hand. ... It's just part of hockey."
Saros, as he has long contended, is happy with more playing time. Said it helps his rhythm and confidence.
"Everything feels more natural," the 24-year-old said.
In a way, though, this transition, or not transition, is natural.
In a way, though, the scripts have been flipped. Rinne had his best start to a season, record-wise, before struggles set in.
Saros, meanwhile, had the worst start to a season of his career before turning things around.
All of that means little for the now, though.
Now the Predators need at least one of them to shoulder the load.
Right now that happens to be Saros.
Reach Paul Skrbina at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PaulSkrbina.