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Unmasked: Active glove helps Predators' Rinne

by Kevin Woodley /

Vancouver Canucks forward Zack Kassian circled at the edge of the right faceoff circle and, spotting a crowd forming in front of the Nashville Predators goal, shot the puck along the ice into a thicket of skates.


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After a short delay, as everyone, including the referees, waited for the intended scramble, Pekka Rinne finally held up his glove, offering proof it was time to blow the whistle and line up for a faceoff.

The puck, as it so often does, rested safely inside Rinne's glove.

Though there may be debate about the best glove hand in the NHL, there is little argument about who has the most active.

Rinne does a lot more than flash the leather on shots destined for the top left corner. The 32-year-old uses his glove to catch pucks everywhere, reaching across his body to snag them out of the air, down to trap them against his pads, or, as he did against Kassian, scoop them off the ice like a shortstop.

"He is like a Hungry Hungry Hippo," new teammate James Neal said. "I've never seen anything like it. You shoot anywhere and he catches it with his glove. Up high, on the ice, if it's there he's scooping it."

Quantifying the effect of Rinne's glove isn't easy, but coach Peter Laviolette doesn't need numbers to believe it helps.

"I know what it does in the defensive zone: It kills the play," Laviolette said. "No one does it like he does it. He does it from a low position, when it's on the ice. Pucks go off pads and they bounce back out front and we don't know where it's going and the play is going to continue, but if he can scoop up the puck, it's over."

Advanced goaltending analytics are in their relative infancy, at least in terms of what is available publicly, and the metrics are limited in the context of shot quality and location on net, which are important factors in a goalie's ability to control where the puck goes next. That said, it is interesting to note Rinne's rebound rate led the NHL from 2009-10 through the end of the 2013-14 season at 4.31 percent, according to

Calculated by the number of times a save resulted in another shot within a few seconds, there is often a lot of fluctuation in rebound percentage, but Rinne's best season was 3.81 percent in 2011-12, almost a full percentage above Ryan Miller in second place, and Rinne never finished worse than fourth over the past five seasons.

Former Predators defenseman Jonathon Blum once estimated Rinne eliminated six to 12 rebounds chances a game with his active glove. The current defense appreciates the work Rinne saves them.

Pekka Rinne
Goalie - NSH
RECORD: 7-2-1
GAA: 1.88 | SVP: .931
Even though Nashville is 24th in the NHL on faceoffs at 47.9 percent, they see setting up for a draw in their end as a more controlled situation than chasing a rebound off the pads. Opposing forwards usually have the advantage of seeing where it is headed first because they are facing the net, while defenders are turned.

"You can focus on your guy and boxing him out knowing Pekka is going to scoop up that rebound and there won't be too many second opportunities," Predators defenseman Shea Weber said. "It's crazy just practicing with the guy, the shots you put along the ice at his pads and he scoops up with his glove. I have never seen it anywhere else, and he works very hard at it in practice and converts it into games. He eliminates a lot of second chances all by himself."

Rinne's ability to pluck pucks off the ice is impressive considering he stands 6-foot-5. He does refine it daily, smothering pucks by cupping his glove over his pads and his blocker when he can't catch them cleanly.

"I still work on it a lot," Rinne said. "It makes practice fun too."

It can make games a lot easier too.

"It decreases your shot total and time in the defensive zone," he said.

The roots of his great glove hand are easily traced to his native Finland, where he benefited from a national goaltending coach program that stresses active hands and skill-building rather than being preoccupied with technique and blocking at an early age.

You can see these roots in the active hands of Vezina Trophy winner Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins, Kari Lehtonen of the Dallas Stars, Calgary Flames backup Karri Ramo and predecessor Miikka Kiprusoff, of whom former Flames goaltending coach David Marcoux once said, "Sidney Crosby doesn't gave the best hands in the NHL; Kipper does."

Rinne has seen some Finnish goalies have their catching instincts coached out of them once they arrive in the NHL, and credits former goaltending coach Mitch Korn, who left Nashville for the Washington Capitals this summer, for keeping it in his game when others might have tried to limit it. But Rinne also recognizes there are times it can be costly, that reaching can open holes when some would argue he should stay compact and rely more on his big frame.

Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne warms up by kicking around a soccer ball with teammates inside Bridgestone Arena prior to a game on March 8, 2013. (Photo: John Russell/NHLI)

"Sometimes it can almost get me into trouble if there is traffic and tips and I try to reach instead," he said.

Rinne also credits his glove to a childhood spent playing soccer, and Pesäpallo, which is best explained as Finnish baseball, but with a smaller field and zig-zag running. Like baseball in America, the main parts include hitting, throwing and catching.

"I do think it helped my eye-hand coordination," Rinne said.

Weber has seen it firsthand.

"We played baseball a couple years ago and he was unbelievable in the field," the Predators captain said, shaking his head. "I don't know about his arm, but I'm sure if you put it anywhere in the field he could catch it."

The same holds true on the ice, much to the delight of the Predators defensemen.

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