Rinne enters next phase of injury rehab, return-timetable uncertain

In Pekka Rinne's injury absence, rookie Marek Mazanec (above -- 2.84 GAA) has helped the Predators secure 19 points from his 20 seasonal starts in goal.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Predators updated the health status of franchise goaltender Pekka Rinne, the two-time Vezina Trophy finalist who has been out since Oct. 22 with a hip infection.

However, as of Friday, it remains unclear of when Rinne might ultimately be able to play.

"We are encouraged and pleased to report that Pekka is moving on to the next stage in his recovery and rehabilitation," the Predators said in a statement. "He has been cleared to begin weight-bearing exercises under the supervision of Dr. Thomas Byrd. There is no timetable for this stage as that will be evaluated by Dr. Byrd and our medical team on a daily basis.

"Our primary objective is to insure Pekka’s full recovery and return to the ice by taking every possible precaution throughout the process. We will provide further updates when available."

The Predators did not practice on Friday and did not comment publicly beyond the statement. The club has home games on Saturday and Sunday.

In Rinne’s absence, the Predators have gone with two goalies, each of whom had one game apiece of previous NHL experience, prior to this season.

Carter Hutton, 28, was signed as a backup in the offseason. He is 7-7-2 with a 3.01 goals-against average and .902 save percentage.

More recently, rookie Marek Mazanec, a 22-year-old Czech native who is playing his first pro season in North America, has taken over the role of No. 1 in Rinne’s stead. The NHL rookie of the month for November, Mazanec is 8-9-3 with a 2.84 GAA and .903 save percentage.

Coach Barry Trotz may be losing faith in Hutton. Mazanec has started six of the past seven games. And following a 2-1 loss at Carolina on Sunday — Hutton’s only start in a two-week span — Trotz made some harsh comments about the goalie’s play.

After the game, Trotz said the Predators "had zero saves today" and said of Hutton’s performance, "that’s not good enough for this league. He wasn’t strong at all."

Including the back-to-back home games over the weekend, Nashville has three games in four days — a tough workload for one goaltender. It will be telling if Trotz elects to start Mazanec in both.

Rinne, who led the NHL in wins two seasons ago, was 4-4-1 with a 2.31 GAA and .917 save percentage before going out. He underwent hip surgery during the offseason; and after coming down with a flu-like symptoms following the Oct. 22 game, he learned of an E. coli infection in his hip after visiting the doctor.

As recently as Thursday, Rinne was seen at Bridgestone Arena using crutches.

For a team built around goaltending and defense, the Predators have had a difficult time compensating for Rinne’s absence.

At 2.40 goals per game, the Predators are tied for 24th in the NHL in scoring. Nasville has played better recently, going 3-2-2 over seven games, but entered Friday nine points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.