When a hockey player returns from injury, quite often their first real test is when they come back to game action and take their first hit. However, this usually applies to forwards and defensemen.
Following the conclusion of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, the Nashville Predators announced that goaltender Pekka Rinne had undergone surgery on his left hip and that his recovery period would take until the start of this season’s training camp.
Sunday night, Rinne saw his first game action in Nashville’s preseason game against the visiting New York Islanders. Shortly after the opening faceoff, the puck ended up in the corner to the left of the Nashville net. Islanders forward Peter Regin chased the puck, lost his footing, and then collided with Rinne, knocking the 6’5” Finn to the ice.
“It was kind of surprising,” Rinne said. “He just fell down and hit me. It was good. You always have to expect the unexpected. It was a good test right away. It didn’t hurt me, so that was good.”
Seeing his franchise goaltender taken to the ice just seconds into his return to playing after months of post-surgery rehab caused Predators head coach Barry Trotz to skip a breath.
“My heard jumped about seven seconds into the game when he got bumped over,” Trotz said. “I laughed after the second period when he finally came off. We had a little timeout. I went over to him and said, ‘Well you got your hip tested pretty good. You got ran over and you fell in the corner. You had a couple of shots, and I said that’s pretty good for the confidence.’”
Rinne played the first two periods of the game, stopping all 13 New York shots he faced. Carter Hutton played the final period and made 12 saves for the combined shutout in Nashville’s 2-0 win.
“It was good to have him back in,” Trotz added. “He’s one of the best in the league, so having him back in the net, is a different team for us.”
The next step in Rinne’s recovery will be to see how the hip reacts following his first game. Nashville’s next preseason game comes Tuesday night at Bridgestone Arena against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Following that contest, the Predators have two remaining preseason games, both on the road; Wednesday against the Washington Capitals and then a return engagement against the Islanders Friday. If Rinne's hip responds well, he will very likely get at least one full game in one of the remaining preseason tilts.
Nashville’s regular season kicks off the following Thursday in St. Louis and then again the next night in Colorado.