In the most literal sense, Carter Hutton has no chance to measure up to Pekka Rinne.
He’s 6-foot-1, after all, four inches shorter than Rinne.
Figuratively, however, the difference does not look quite so pronounced following Thursday’s 3-2 overtime victory over the Winnipeg Jets at Bridgestone Arena.
The 27-year-old did what was needed, which is to say he kept his team in it from start to finish – literally. The Jets registered the game’s first seven shots, the final eight of regulation and two of the first three in overtime. Those were all critical junctures, to say the least.
“I understand the pressure and the spotlight,” he said Thursday following the morning skate. “That’s part of being a goalie. I’ve been in different situations and I think a lot of games over my career have prepared me where I’ll just play and whatever happens, happens.”
One thing that happened in this one was he allowed the game-tying goal with 3:01 to play in the third period. That was only because Winnipeg had three chances in a three-second flurry and Hutton had no opportunity to make that save when play got scrambled around his net.
He never let his team fall behind, though, and even the first goal he allowed was by the narrowest of margins. Officials on the ice actually ruled he made a spectacular save and swept the puck off the line before video review determined it actually had crossed the line completely.
In all, he faced 36 shots, which matched the second highest total by a Nashville opponent this season and helped the Predators improve to 3-2-0 when outshot by the opposition.
"He made more saves than their guy and we scored more goals," captain Shea Weber said. "As long as he keeps doing that, then we’re good. He plays the puck well, he’s talking out there, and he’s doing everything we need him to."
Nashville relies as much on its goaltender as any team. Its system is built from the back to the front and the offense is anything but potent. The Predators are the Western Conference’s lowest scoring team, which means their ability to answer goals against is limited at best.
So for the next several weeks while Rinne recovers from a surgical procedure to cure a staph infection in his hip they’re going to lean heavily on Hutton, who eight years ago was 33-1-0 in his final year of Junior A hockey, a step below the major junior leagues that are the NHL’s primary talent pipelines.
This is his first season on the sport’s main stage and although he looked much smaller in net than Rinne, he still looked every bit like an NHL goaltender.
“You’re always prepared to play,” he said. “This is definitely not the way that you want to play. You want to win the job and win your games but at the same time you always have to be ready.
“… I have to kind of do my thing, work hard. We have a pretty solid team here. That’s definitely going to help.”
He has some big shoes to fill, temporarily at least. But this was a good first step.