Confidence remains strong with Preds goalie Hutton despite winless record
Nearly halfway through the season, the Nashville Predators have arguably been one of the best teams in the NHL thanks primarily to the work of netminder Pekka Rinne. On the flip side, his counterpart Carter Hutton hasn’t enjoyed the same type of success.
With only five of Nashville’s games under his belt so far, Hutton remains winless on the season. It’s not been the greatest of starts for the University of Massachusetts Lowell product, but Hutton has also played in some of Nashville’s more difficult outings of the season.
He’s played well enough to keep the Predators close in the majority of his five starts. Although collecting only two of 10 possible points, there’s obviously more to be desired than what Hutton has delivered. What’s important is that the coaching staff and his teammates feel Hutton is keeping them in games when he’s on the ice, regardless of the outcome.
"He’s given us a chance to win in every game he’s in there," Predators head coach Peter Laviolette said. "He catches a lot of tough assignments. I think he’s done a good job."
Three of Hutton’s five games have come on the tail end of back-to-back sets for Nashville. All five have come against teams in or within range of a playoff position. Nothing’s been easy for Hutton. However, with the way he’s been playing, winning is going to come sooner rather than later.
"It’s going to come," said Rinne. "It’s just a matter of time. It’s been a little unlucky, too. He always gets the second half of the back-to-backs. Really tough games. He’s played some top teams: Boston, Chicago, Anaheim and Ottawa. All really good teams. It’s not easy, but he’s still brought home a couple of points. His game is really strong. Obviously, that’s a really good sign for our whole team."
In his last outing against the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 4, Hutton allowed three goals in regulation before ending the game with a shootout loss. Two of the three Ducks goals appeared to be out of Hutton’s control, with the only exception being a seemingly innocuous Matt Beleskey point shot. Initially thought to be a clean shot by Beleskey, replays showed that a slight deflection off the stick of Predators defenseman Anton Volchenkov helped change the course of the puck enough to drift past the glove of Hutton.
"It came off Volchenkov’s stick and it just knuckled in," said Hutton. "It’s one of those one’s we talk about. It’s always kind of controversial. We had one in Carolina with (Rinne). We put a stick in and it got deflected. It’s such a happy medium. Sometimes, from out there it’s a routine save. We put our stick in there and it creates trouble sometimes. But then so many times we put our stick in and it deflects out of play or goes somewhere else and it’s a great play."
That’s a lot of what Hutton has seen this season. Whether it’s a deflected puck or a defensive breakdown, he’s seen first hand some of the blemishes in Nashville’s near-flawless armor.
In any case, Hutton’s never been a player to place blame on things that are out of his control. Coming off a 20-win season last year in place of an injured Rinne, all Hutton can do is worry about what he can control.
What could only make things worse is how close Hutton has been to notching his first win. The Predators were three minutes away from closing out the Ducks before they gave up the lead. They came within one goal of knotting the score against Boston and Ottawa, having multiple chances coming late in regulation against both. Even in an Oct. 18 matchup against the Blackhawks, Nashville had a chance to pull out a win. Tied at one throughout regulation, Jonathan Toews tapped in his own rebound on a shorthanded breakaway in overtime for the win. That’s just been the way it’s went this year for Hutton.
"You never want to play the ‘poor me’ role by any means," Hutton said. "My job is to win games. I only control what I can. I go out there. I work hard and I practice hard. I compete to win. (Anaheim) was a tough game, I thought I played well. I thought I gave us a chance to win, playing a back-to-back against a top team in the league. It’s tough. It’s never nice, getting scored on late. It’s kind of been a pattern. If I get scored on then or I get scored on the first power play, it doesn’t make a difference. It’s tough to swallow."
Frustrating as it’s been, it still boils down to the two basics: wins and losses.
"I continue to look back at my games this year and I think I’ve played solid in all of my outings. If you look at the goals I’ve given up — other than Johnny Oduya and the first shot of the year going in, that’s probably the worst goal I’ve given up," Hutton said. "I don’t think I give up bad goals by any means. I compete. I give our team a chance to win. I’m going to play those games, those Chicago, Boston, Anaheim, back-to-backs. We may not have as much jam and jump, but that’s my job. I’m just going to continue to play and control what I can."
After five tough losses and not a single win, finding ways to stay positive can grow increasingly difficult.
In Hutton’s case, it’s nearly impossible for him to find any type of rhythm. Playing about once every eight games, backing up a healthy Rinne doesn’t provide all the opportunities in the world. Sometimes, all it takes is the right mentality.
That’s one thing the Predators benefit from in regards to Hutton: He’s always been a consummate professional on and off the ice.
"I’m a smart enough hockey player to understand the game, to know it’s not lack of my play," said Hutton. "Of course you want to win, that’s my job. At the same time, I think it’s more than just when I play. It’s the way that I practice. It’s the way that I carry myself in the locker room. It’s the way that I support (Rinne).
"I can go from playing five games at this point to who knows. Anything can happen so I’ve got to be ready to go, continue to further on my career, get better, and become a No. 1 in this league."