- Scott Burnside, NHL
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Nashville -- Lots of jokes are floating around the Nashville Predators' dressing room these days, not just about the quality of their goaltending but, well, the size of that goaltending.
Certainly, the Predators are the only NHL team in history that can boast of having just shy of 13 feet of goaltending.
"Yeah, about the same size. I guess that's one more positive thing," Rinne acknowledged Thursday morning before the 5-0-3 Predators were to play host to Central Division rival St. Louis.
OK. Maybe it's not all that funny. But the fact remains that the Predators, the only NHL team that began play Thursday without a regulation loss, are able to crack some jokes about a goaltending situation that could easily have been a nightmare.
During the offseason, the Predators made a conscious decision to eschew the many free-agent goalies on the market and see who might emerge as Rinne's backup.
The thinking was that if the backup couldn't get the job done, GM David Poile would start beating the bushes looking for some veteran help.
As it turned out, Lindback, an undrafted, unheralded 22-year-old out of Sweden earned the backup job to Rinne out of training camp. Had things gone according to plan, head coach Barry Trotz might not have called Lindback's number to give Rinne a rest until Game 8 or so of this season.
But, as Poile pointed out Thursday morning in an interview, things didn't go quite according to plan.
In the third period of the Predators' season opener, Rinne went down with a knee injury.
And in came Lindback for his first NHL action, and he never missed a beat.
He helped preserve that victory over Anaheim and went on to post a 3-0-1 record with a .925 save percentage.
"Oh yeah, that was a bit overwhelming," Lindback admitted. "It went so quickly I don't have the time to think. I just went out there."
The Predators boast the NHL's third-best goals-against average heading into play Thursday at 2.12.
A unique situation?
Poile has been around the game a long time and acknowledged turning over the goaltending reins to two relatively untested netminders isn't how they tell you how to do it in the GMs' operating manual.
"It was not historically what hockey managers have chosen to do," he acknowledged.
And specifically, the ascension of Lindback runs contrary to how the Predators have done business over the years.
"Traditionally, the road to Nashville has always run through Milwaukee," Poile told ESPN.com, noting the team's American Hockey League franchise.
That's where most of the Predators' top homegrown players honed their skills before coming to the NHL. It's where Rinne honed his skills before becoming one of the game's top young goaltenders.
When Rinne blanked Dallas 1-0 last weekend, it marked his 15th shutout since Dec. 1, 2008, most in the NHL over that period.
Although he will turn 28 in November, this is just Rinne's third full season in the NHL. But, he has quickly moved from NHL newcomer to mentor for young Lindback.
"Things happen quickly," Rinne said. "All these few years have gone by really fast and a lot of things have happened. But it's great to see a guy like Anders coming in and being ready like he is. Being only 22 years old, it's amazing and just really happy to have him [as] my goalie partner. Obviously, I do anything to help him if he needs any advice but he's a smart kid and works extremely hard and I think that's just a key thing, to have that work ethic," he said.
Lindback is currently living with teammate Patric Hornqvist, although Hornqvist is helping Lindback find his own apartment [and not one in Milwaukee as it turns out] and his first North American car.
As for nerves, Lindback seems unaware that he should be feeling any.
"Actually, I have really hard [time] to get nervous and that might be a good thing. I don't remember I got nervous the last time, really. I just get excited and just try and do my best every day," he said.
Has there been anything that's been difficult in the transition from anonymous netminder to front-line NHL player?
"Everything's really been ... just living the dream," he said with a smile.
Just like the Predators.
9dScott Burnside and Craig Custance