A positional evaluation of the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks upcoming playoff series returns the most question marks surrounding the teams’ goaltenders. So, that’s where we’ll begin our series previews (with a look at the defense and forwards arriving in the coming days).
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- 6-foot-3; 226 lbs; 22 years old
- 40 GPI: 21-13-4
- Save Percentage: .920%
- GAA: 2.07
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- 6-foot-5; 217 lbs; 33 years old
- 66 GPI: 34-21-10
- Save Percentage: .908%
- GAA: 2.48
- 6-foot-1; 201 lbs; 30 years old
- 17 GPI: 7-5-4
- Save Percentage: .918%
- GAA: 2.33
Short Leash? The Ducks enter the 2016 postseason with two starting goaltenders on their roster, with John Gibson and Frederik Andersen splitting play evenly during the regular season. Following the Ducks regular season finale, Anaheim Head Coach Bruce Boudreau indicated that the 22-year-old Gibson would get the nod in Game One, but it would seem that even raising the question at that juncture of the campaign could speak to Anaheim’s goaltending volatility.
Boudreau had adopted a methodology of rotating his goaltenders every two games in the second half of the season, prior to Andersen exiting the lineup with an injury and Gibson seizing control of the Anaheim crease. Still, Gibson remains predominantly unproven in the playoffs, logging only four starts two years ago in the postseason, while Andersen had the Ducks within a win of the Stanley Cup Final less than one year ago.
“Sometimes it’s a little easier when you know you’re the guy, you know you can go in there and do your thing,” Nashville goaltender Carter Hutton said of the Duck goaltending duo. “Maybe there’s a little bit more internal pressure when you have two guys though.”
Case in point to Gibson’s recent ascension, the Predators didn’t even face the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, native during their three games against the Ducks in 2015-16, something that can prove tricky at first for Nashville’s shooters, according to winger James Neal.
“We haven’t see much of him,” Neal said. “He’s got a little bit of playoff experience, a good, young goalie. But for us, it’s playoff time, it’s doing the right things, getting lots of shots and doing the right things to win games.”
Within Hutton’s evaluation of Gibson’s play, the Preds netminder was quick to mention he sees Gibson as one of the top up-and-coming goalies in the League.
“Gibson’s a pretty successful, young guy. He came up really fast, he played really well in the World Championships too,” Hutton said. “He doesn’t beat himself, he plays a pretty solid game. He isn’t the most laterally quick guy by any means, but he’s a really solid goaltender who’s been in a lot of key situations.
“I think we dictate our own future, no matter who’s in net. We’re going to look at the video and see what they do, but we’ll be ready to face whoever.”
Even with 21 wins in 40 appearances this season, Gibson, like any goaltender, is not untouchable in the starter’s role. If the Predators are able to get to the Ducks current starter between the pipes early in a game during the series, how tempted will Boudreau be to make a switch? A two-game rotation in the playoffs probably won’t cut it like it did in the regular season.
Rinne’s Recovery: Pekka Rinne’s status as the Predators No. 1 in goal may be unquestioned, but the goaltender was not without his challenges during the 2015-16 campaign. Rinne finishes with his lowest career save-percentage in a playoff-qualifying year at .908, but overall, the Finn’s stats don’t properly reveal his resurgence during the latter half of the regular season.
Since mid-February through the end of the regular season, the Predators and Ducks claimed two of the NHL’s Top Four records, with Rinne’s .944 save-percentage over a nine-game span starting on Feb. 18 pacing the League.
“I feel like I had a pretty good stretch to end the season, we had some games as a team and myself, where we improved our play and as a team we played better,” Rinne said. “I feel really excited. Even though I can’t be, personally, totally pleased with my season, it’s a great accomplishment to make the playoffs. It’s not an easy League. It almost gives you a second chance, there’s no regular-season stats, it doesn’t matter anymore. So you just go out there and try to play and do the best you can. That’s what I’m going to try to do.”
Neal said the Predators recommitting to play tighter team defense in front of Rinne at that point in the season also helped to steady not only the goaltender’s numbers, but save Nashville’s season as a whole. Looking at his body of work, Neal says the 33-year-old netminder is still without question one of the world’s best.
“I think you maybe look at him more when we were losing games he was giving up more goals, but I think that was more on us and on our defensive play than really on him,” Neal said. “You can always blame the goalie, but I don’t think that was a fair assessment in this case. I think every guy started playing better hockey, and we turned things around. He’s been great ever since I got here, and great all year again. I know he loves being the guy in the playoffs, and we’ll count on him a lot.”