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Matt Murray vs. Pekka Rinne

Tall goalies bring different styles to Stanley Cup Final

by Kevin Woodley / Correspondent

Goaltending plays an integral part in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so much like many NHL goalie coaches do before a playoff series, 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 or tendencies that can be targeted.

The two goalies with the best postseason save percentages meet in the Stanley Cup Final, though Pittsburgh Penguins starter Matt Murray compiled his .946 in five games after taking over for Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final. Nashville Predators starter Pekka Rinne worked longer to maintain his .941, though it has dropped each round since sweeping the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference First Round with a .976.

In addition to different paths to the Cup Final, Rinne and Murray play dissimilar styles, and how each team attacks those approaches could determine which goalie wins the Cup.


Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

Rinne ran hot and cold from month to month in the regular season before continuing a sizzling March into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Consistency has been an issue for the three-time Vezina Trophy finalist in recent years, with a tendency to get overactive during the down spells. Rinne has tried to steady his game by reining in some aggressive tendencies, using his 6-foot-5 frame more efficiently rather than relying on his exceptional reach and athleticism, but there were more signs of his old approach against the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Final.



Blocker, not glove: Rinne's impressive glove has 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 St. Louis Blues beat Rinne high-glove three times early in the second round, but as that series went on, he was able to catch and control play on shots to that side. The Ducks went the other way, scoring nine of their 14 goals on the blocker side, including clean shots from distance.

No angle is a bad angle: Rinne has improved his use of modern post-integration tactics when play is behind the net but still likes to hold his skates rather than defaulting early to post-seal techniques when the puck is in the corner. It leaves him more vulnerable to getting caught transitioning to the ice on plays from sharp angles. The Ducks caught him in this transition to score the winning goal in Game 4 off a deflected pass out of the corner and banked a bad-angle goal off his right skate while he was still standing in Game 3. Anaheim also scored two goals with cross-ice passes that caught Rinne in a butterfly outside his posts, which left him stranded and the net empty, and from a sharp angle on a quick play from below the goal line in Game 6.

Keep dump-ins away from him: Rinne has three assists and uses puck-handling to keep him engaged when he isn't busy stopping shots. He will use his body and glove to corral dump-ins up on the glass, a no-no for most goalies because of the increased risk of a bad bounce like the one that almost cost a shorthanded goal in Game 3 against the Chicago Blackhawks. But as he showed by stopping a dump-in to set up a breakout that led to an empty-net goal in Game 6 against the Blues, anything he can get to could create offense the other way.


Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins

Murray could win his second Stanley Cup while still a rookie, but unlike last season, when he played 21 NHL games before his playoff debut and there wasn't much video for opponents to dissect, there's now an entire season of footage. Despite that, and even after the spotlight of a Cup run that leads to intense analysis of every goal, perceived mistake and scoring trend, there isn't a lot to nitpick about Murray's technically sound, well-balanced approach.



Glove side: Most goalies have a side they move better to, and for Murray it was evident last playoffs that was his blocker, with a lack of rotation causing him to get a little flat and stretched out more often moving to his glove side. Looking at this regular season, there wasn't much of a discrepancy, with 38 goals above the pad on his glove side and 36 on the blocker. Murray, who used to drop his left side early at times, uses a fingers-up glove position to try to take away what shooters see high-glove but got caught dropping that glove a bit early on a shot over his glove in Game 6 against the Ottawa Senators. The 15 goals along the ice to his left, compared to 10 on his right, during the regular season include a tendency to end up fully extended and falling forward on the ice more often to his glove, especially early.

Glove for rebounds, under blocker to score: Though the glove side wasn't a problem during Murray's first full season in the NHL, some of the 30 rebound goals came off plays when he got a piece of the puck but wasn't able to control a shot high to the glove side. On the other side, Murray's blocker position, with his right elbow sticking out to keep the stick blade on the ice even in blocking situations, led to more goals under the arm and between the blocker and pad. Other than that trend, Murray is typically a goalie who forces opponents to beat him with good shots, with a conservative positional approach on end-zone play that rarely takes him out of a play. One playoff goal has come on a clean shot; the rest involved multiple elements.

Lateral off rush: Scoring chances that force side-to-side movement are more dangerous for all goalies, but Murray (6-foot-4) plays with a little more backward flow, taking early ice against the rush and timing his retreat. He also can get wide of his posts on plays down the wing, overplaying the short side and leaving extra distance to cover on wraparounds or passes that get through to the other side. Of the 53 regular-season goals Murray allowed on rush chances, 34 involved a lateral play and 22 crossed the slot line, an imaginary line that splits the zone below the tops of the faceoff circles. Of the 46 goals involving a one-timer, 21 were after a play across the slot line and 14 had a lateral element on the same side of the ice. Four of seven playoff goals crossed the slot line and a fifth had a same-side lateral element.

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