Rinne expects clearance to play games 'this week at some point'

Pekka Rinne will not start when the Nashville Predators resume their season Thursday.

His rehab from an infection in his hip is nearly finished, though.

Rinne met with doctors Monday morning then practiced with the team as he has since the middle of last week. He said all that remains is for him to be cleared for full activity – that means games – and he expects that to happen soon.

“I feel like it’s coming,” he said. “I’m not too nervous anymore. I feel really optimistic [that] I’m going to get the go-ahead this week at some point. That’s all that I care about now.”

Rinne has not played since Oct. 22, when he stopped 27 of 28 shots in a 2-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild.

That was Predators’ 10th game of the season. Thursday they will play their 60th when they host Tampa Bay (7 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee) in their return following the Olympic break.

Coach Barry Trotz said Monday that Rinne “definitely” would not be the starter in that one. Carter Hutton, instead, will make his seventh straight start.

Trotz did acknowledge, though, that Rinne’s time is coming.

“It’s just like anything when you’re getting close to your destination,” he said. “Our destination is to get Pekka back in the nets at some point. Whenever that happens it happens. But it feels a lot better than it did a month ago or six weeks ago.”

He added that when and where (he could go to Milwaukee on a rehab assignment) Rinne makes his return would be determined collectively by Rinne’s doctors, the team’s trainers and management and Rinne himself, who lately has met with doctors on a weekly basis.

“It’s been such a long time that I’m not going to worry over one day or two days,” Rinne said. “In practice we’ve been doing everything we possibly can to kind of simulate game action and whatever situations we might face. The next step is playing games, and hopefully that’s really soon.”