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John Gibson vs. Pekka Rinne

Goalies for Ducks, Predators each capable of stealing conference final

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com Correspondent

Goaltending plays an integral part in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so much like many NHL goalie coaches do before a playoff series, NHL.com charted every goal scored against each goalie this season with the help of Double Blue Sport Analytics. Graphics showing where goals went in and shots were taken are nice, but the real value is tracking and analyzing the types of plays that led to them, and whether they reveal strengths, weaknesses and tendencies that can be targeted.

 

Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne's .951 save percentage leads the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He is continuing his quest to quiet a style many once considered overactive for his size.

Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson's .908 save percentage is the lowest of the remaining goalies. He has been relying more on instinct and athleticism.

Each is capable of stealing the Western Conference Final, but the differences in their approach could play a big role in the outcome.

 

Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

Rinne's strong playoff performance is a continuation of a sizzling March -­ and the end of a trend of alternating hot and cold months during the regular season. Consistency has been an issue for the three-time Vezina Trophy finalist in recent seasons, but Rinne has tried to steady his game by reigning in some of the more aggressive tendencies of his past, using his 6-foot-5 frame more efficiently rather than relying on his exceptional reach and athleticism.

 

GOAL TRENDS

Get in tight and open him up: Despite being more conservative overall, Rinne remains active on plays down low, something the St. Louis Blues turned into two five-hole goals early in the Western Conference Second Round. Rinne's explosive movements mean he's rarely out of a play, but they can also open holes in his big frame as he moves laterally. In addition to the early goals he allowed against St. Louis, this trend contributed to 19 five-hole goals-against during the regular season. It also helps explain his .779 save percentage on high-danger shots during the regular season, among the lowest for NHL starters, according to Corsica Hockey. Rinne's save percentage on high-danger shots is .857 in the playoffs.

Video: STL@NSH, Gm6: Rinne extends to snag Parayko's wrister

Stay away from the glove?: That Rinne is impressive with his glove has been well-documented, with roots in a Finnish version of baseball. He will catch pucks on the other side of his body and scoop them off the ice in front of his pads, controlling rebounds other goalies would kick back into play. The Blues beat Rinne with three good shots over the glove, including a clean look off the rush in Game 1 that caught him dropping his hands early into a blocking position, but as the series progressed, Rinne was able to catch and control play on shots to the glove.

Dump it in high: Rinne has three assists, one shy of the record for a goalie in a single postseason set by Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils in 2012, but his improved puck-handling also helps him remain engaged when he isn't as busy stopping shots. He will even corral dump-ins up on the glass, a no-no for most goalies because of the increased risk of bad bounces. It almost cost Rinne a shorthanded goal in Game 3 of the first round against the Chicago Blackhawks, but as he showed by stopping a dump-in off the boards to set up a breakout that led to an empty net goal in the series-clinching win in Game 6 against the Blues, anything he can get to could create offense the other way.

 

John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

Despite a reliance on raw skill often associated with inconsistency, Gibson was steady to spectacular in the regular season, finishing with a .924 save percentage, and stopped 113 of 122 shots he faced (.926) against the Calgary Flames in the first round. He struggled for stretches against the Edmonton Oilers in the second round, but much like in Game 7, don't be surprised if Gibson bounces back quickly, something he also did within games against the Oilers.

 

GOAL TRENDS

Stretch him out: Goals along the ice are often a function of backdoor tap-ins and rebounds, but Gibson has a tendency to get stretched out on plays across the slot line, an imaginary line that splits the zone below the top of the faceoff circles. After giving up 41 percent of his regular-season goals along the ice or between his legs, a high percentage in the butterfly era, 13 of the 28 goals (46 percent) Gibson has allowed in the playoffs have been scored in similar fashion. All five of the between-the-legs goals came against the Oilers, including two on breakaways, where that tendency to reach rather than shift into lateral plays can open holes, a factor in 15 five-hole goals he allowed during the regular season.

Video: EDM@ANA, Gm7: Gibson makes a stick save on Pouliot

Get it up: Whether sprawling forward to extend a leg at the last second, going into the splits, or reaching back with his arm, Gibson has a Gumby-like flexibility that ensures he is never out of a play. Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau found out the hard way when Gibson threw out his left leg to take away an empty net on a rebound late in Game 1, and Oilers center Connor McDavid got a taste when he reached with his left arm to preserve a lead 3:49 into the third period of Game 7. Each is a highlight-reel reminder to the Predators that failure to elevate the puck, even when it looks like Gibson is out of the play and the net is empty, could result in a momentum-changing save.

Screens and lateral plays: Gibson's movement inefficiencies can add up with multiple passes on the power play, putting him behind on quick shots, a trend on display in the first two rounds of the playoffs and one exacerbated by traffic as he looks around bodies from a low stance. In the regular season, 50.9 percent of his goals-against involved lateral plays, and so far in the playoffs, half of his 28 goals included a lateral element, including 11 across the slot line.

Low-high?: Edmonton defenseman Adam Larsson scored the winning goal in Game 1 taking the puck below the goal line on a rush and throwing it back into Gibson's skates, which were planted outside the post as he tried to push across for a potential wraparound. After almost giving up a similar goal earlier, Gibson adjusted for the rest of the series, keeping that skate inside the post, but he didn't always look as comfortable coming off his posts and gave up five goals on low-high plays.

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