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Rinne's unpredictability an edge over Gibson

Nashville veteran has tools for playoff run, but Anaheim's Gibson rising goaltending star

by Kevin Woodley / Correspondent

Goaltending plays an integral part in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so is breaking down the battle between the pipes in each series this season, charting goals to find strengths, weaknesses and targetable tendencies.

With two good young goaltending options in John Gibson and Frederik Andersen, and coach Bruce Boudreau being coy about which one will start, the Anaheim Ducks are trying to keep the Nashville Predators guessing. The Predators probably would be happy just knowing what they have in goal after an inconsistent season from Pekka Rinne.

It hasn't been an easy season for Rinne, whose active style relies more on rhythm and timing that eluded him for long stretches, but also makes it harder to target specific weaknesses.

POSITIONING: If you want to get a feel for Rinne's aggression, just watch him when the Ducks break out of their end. Rinne will tap his posts as the play hits center ice and come charging out several feet beyond the top of his crease, stop suddenly, and start a retreat he times with the approaching rush. With a style based on aggression, Rinne may have more moving parts than any other NHL goalie.

Gibson plays with some flow, but isn't overly aggressive. He will take more ice against breakaways and try to match the shooter's speed with his retreat, but otherwise doesn't typically stray much beyond the edges of his crease, if at all, even against rush chances. There are times that can leave him a little deep against both breakaways and rushes, but overall he plays a pretty neutral positional game. It's one that should allow him to beat lateral plays and get set more than he sometimes does because of a habit of coming across almost casually, seemingly trying to time his arrival with the play rather than beat it.

Advantage: It should be a bigger edge, but even with that flow, Gibson.

Video: ANA@LAK: Gibson stones Kopitar on the doorstep

BLOCK/REACT THRESHOLD: Rinne's impressive glove hand has been well documented and has roots in playing a Finnish version of baseball. He will catch pucks on the other side of his body as well as scoop them off the ice in front of his pads, controlling rebounds other goaltenders would kick back into play.

Gibson has an active, engaged stance, cutting more at the hips but keeping both hands pressed forward low in front of his pads, keeping them active in his save execution even when he pushes a little early with the knees. That can pull his torso and track up and away from the puck on high shots. His lower save stance can leave him looking around screens as plays move down into scoring areas, but he maintains a taller, narrower stance to see over traffic when the puck is up near the blue line.

Advantage: Given how reliant he is on reflexes, and how well he has done playing that way, Rinne.

PUCKHANDLING: Rinne handles the puck a lot better than most seem to realize, and sometimes a lot more than he maybe should. He has used puckhandling as a way to stay active and engaged while adjusting to seeing fewer shots the past two seasons. He will even go behind the net to try and corral dump-ins high up on the glass, a no-no for most goalies because of the increased risk of bad bounces. He will have to be more careful in Anaheim, where lively boards and unpredictable bounces are one reason Ducks goaltenders don't play the puck as often as they might otherwise.

Andersen is a better passer than Gibson, but both are still limited in how often they venture behind the net.

Advantage: Criticized for it earlier in his career, playing the puck is now a strength for Rinne.

Video: COL@NSH: Rinne holds Predators' lead in final minute

POST PLAY: Rinne likes to hold his skates rather than defaulting early to his post-seal techniques, a patient approach that aids his mobility moving off the posts but leaves him more vulnerable to getting caught transitioning his long legs down to the ice on low plays from bad angles and behind the net. It also seems to produce a lot of frantic scrambles around Rinne's crease for a goalie who should be big enough to take away dead-angle scoring options from his knees without having to move so much.

Gibson has multiple options for playing sharp angle attacks. He will use a traditional VH, sealing the post with his lead pad pressed upright against it. He also uses the newer reverse-VH technique with the lead pad on the ice and the body leaning back over it into the post, though he doesn't always execute it very well in terms of using the back skate to push into the post and pivot off it. Mostly, though, Gibson is like Rinne in that he holds his skates more than most on plays behind the net, a tactic that allows him to push better back up high in his crease but can leave him vulnerable down low in tight.

Advantage: Frankly, the best net-play goalie in the series may be on the Ducks bench in Andersen.

SCORING TRENDS: As active as he is with his hands, even Rinne knows reaching too much opens up holes opponents will try to exploit with redirections. He also admittedly struggles more when he isn't busy. Though most teams preach getting lots of pucks on net during the playoffs, it may be more fruitful to stay patient and try to work for better opportunities, letting Rinne expend his energy covering off all the extra space created with his aggressive positioning by moving the puck around the zone more.

Gibson's sometimes casual lateral movement, and habit of trying to match his speed and time his arrival with the play as it unfolds, includes a tendency to use a reverse C-cut to build momentum for longer lateral movements. This extra move not only opens him up and pulls his upper body away from the direction he needs to fill while he's moving, it creates a needless delay that also limits his power and extension in the push leg. It's the kind of habit that can be targeted with one-timers off lateral passes, but the easiest opportunity to do that is on the the power play, where Gibson led NHL regulars with a .927 save percentage.

Advantage: Because his unpredictable over-activity might be harder to game plan against, Rinne.

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