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FIRST ROUND

Ben Bishop vs. Pekka Rinne

Unique styles for each goalie could help determine Stars-Predators series

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com Correspondent

Goaltending is an integral part of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. To better understand the strengths and weaknesses of each goaltender, the last 100 goals allowed for each goaltender in the regular season were charted, with the help of Apex Video Analysis and Save Review System from Upper Hand Inc., to see what patterns emerge.

The combined height of Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne (6-foot-5) and Dallas Stars goalie Ben Bishop (6-7) is 13 feet, but neither relies heavily on a size advantage to stop the puck. 

Their unique reactive attributes and evolving technical games are among the trends that could play a key role in deciding the Western Conference First Round, which begins with Game 1 at Nashville on Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET; USA, SN1, TVAS, FS-TN, FS-SW). 

Here is an in-depth look at each goalie's game:

 

[RELATED: Complete Predators vs. Stars series coverage]

 

Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars

The only thing that might keep Bishop from winning the Vezina Trophy this season were the injuries that limited him to 46 games (45 starts). He finished with an NHL-leading .934 save percentage and had four shutouts in his final seven complete games. Bishop skates well and plays with more flow than many smaller peers, but there are challenges that come with being so tall. There are some loose technical elements that could be targeted by the Predators.

 

Goal Trends

Sharp angles: The most obvious target on Bishop involves plays from below the bottom of the face-off circles and behind the net, with his movements into and off his posts accounting for 18 of the 87 goals (20.7 percent) he allowed this season. Shots originating from below the goal line resulted in 3.5 percent of the goals he allowed, but some of the issues originate much higher in the zone. He likes to drop into a post-sealing tactic known as Reverse-VH, a technique when the goalie drops his lead pad to the ice with the skate against the inside of the post and uses the back leg and skate to drive that seal and steer movements off the post. Difficult for taller goalies to execute smoothly, Reverse-VH is best intended for plays from along the goal line or below. In addition to getting beat cleanly over the short-side shoulder from just above the goal line, Bishop got caught using it on plays originating as high as the face-off dot.

Active stick: Bishop uses his stick aggressively around his posts, breaking up passes through his crease and even to disrupt plays starting from below the goal line. He can be left off balance or extended past his posts on quick shots off low-high plays, which accounted for 22 of his goals (25.3 percent), including five that started with him swinging at and missing the puck with his stick. 

High glove?: Not so much: The highest number on Bishop's goal chart was high glove, and his mid-to-high-glove total represented 25 percent of his total goals, slightly above the average tracked for 5,500 goals in this project during the past three seasons. That, however, does not mean Bishop has a bad glove hand; the numbers aren't save percentages. The number of goals would be partially the product of the number and quality of shots targeted there. More telling is this: Of 19 clean shot goals, where Bishop was set to the shooter, three went in high on the glove side compared to eight on the blocker side.

 

Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

Rinne has continued to evolve throughout his NHL career, trying to improve the balance between the reactive athletic style that defined him early and a more controlled, precise game that allows the 36-year-old to be more efficient as he ages. After helping the Predators reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2017, when they lost in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Rinne made subtle but significant changes last season and won his first Vezina Trophy awarded to the goalie voted best in the NHL. 

Rinne's save percentage dropped from .927 last season to .918. Unlike last season, he goes into the playoffs on a hot streak, having allowed two goals or fewer in seven of his past eight starts with a .946 save percentage since March 14. Those are important numbers for a goalie reliant on rhythm to be at his best.

Goal Trends

Shoot wide?: Rinne's taller, narrower stance seems to improve his traffic management with screen goals down from 33 percent two seasons ago to 18 last season to 12 this season. It also allows him to shift into long shots rather than reaching for them, which has opened holes under the arms in past seasons. The goals that scored under his arms dropped for a second straight season, from 13 to nine to six. If there is a negative associated with this change, it's a tendency to chase shots laterally. Among the 17 goals Rinne allowed on low-high plays, several saw the puck hit the end board on one side and came back on the other side for a shot with Rinne scrambling for position. He allowed 22 against-the-grain goals, with Rinne pushing in one direction toward shots that were then deflected in some manner to go the other direction.

Glove love: Like Bishop, there could be a temptation to look at the goal chart and think high glove is the way to score. It's important to remember we don't have a save percentage for these locations and shot volume, and quality may play a big role. Anecdotally, the prowess Rinne has with his glove has been well documented, its roots in playing a Finnish version of baseball while growing up. Seven of the 34 allowed to the high-glove area were considered clean shots. A better target may be low blocker just above the leg pad, which accounted for seven of the 34 clean goals and 17 total goals. Unlike shooting glove side, which provides Rinne the opportunity to catch the puck, even along the ice, and control rebounds, targeting the blocker side has a better chance of producing second chances. That's important because rebounds factored into 21 of the 100 goals charted this season.

Low tips: Most goalies drop their hands to their sides to seal holes in their butterfly on screen shots. Rinne, though, will sometimes keep his hands high on shots through traffic, which played a role in some of the 28 goals that went in just above his pads.

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