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Saros Standing Tall in Predators Net

Despite His Stature, Goaltender Juuse Saros is Finding Plenty of Ways to Stop the Puck for Preds

by John Glennon @glennonsports / jg1sport@aol.com

Midway through the first period of the Predators' game against League-leading Washington, Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt whipped a quick, cross-ice pass to teammate John Carlson.

Carlson blasted away at what appeared to be a chunk of open Nashville net, but Preds rookie goalie Juuse Saros - a blur of blue-and-gold - flashed across his crease to turn away the attempt as the Bridgestone Arena crowd roared.

The sequence was just another illustration of the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Saros refusing to let stature determine his ceiling.

While the NHL over the past decade has moved increasingly toward bigger netminders - tall, athletic goalies that naturally cover more of the net - Saros is finding plenty of success despite not being able to look many of his peers in the eye.

Among the League's 60 goalies, Saros is one of just three under 6-feet tall, one of only eight who weigh 180 pounds or less. The NHL's other two goalies under 6-feet - Anaheim's Jhonas Enroth and Boston's Anton Khudobin - have combined for three wins this year.

But after beating the Capitals over the weekend, Saros sports a 7-5-3 mark.

Even more impressive, Saros's .929 save percentage ranks fourth and his 2.21 goals against average eighth among NHL goalies who've played at least 15 games this year.

"I've never been the tallest guy," Saros said. "I've been hearing [about a lack of height] ever since I've been 14 or something. So I'm used to it. Sometimes you can even get a little motivation out of it. You just have to try to make up for it with other things."

Video: NSH@CBJ: Saros robs Atkinson with terrific pad save

 When Predators goalie Pekka Rinne played his first NHL games during the 2005-06 season, he was more of an exception than the rule - a 6-foot-5, 217-pounder who was agile enough to move quickly around the crease.

But big guys are the norm in net these days. The average NHL goalie now stands 6-foot-2.5 inches tall. A whopping eight of the NHL's 60 goalies stand 6-foot-5 or taller and six are 6-foot-6 or taller.

"I think in the old days the bigger guys were considered slower, but that's not the case anymore," said former Preds goalie Chris Mason, one of the team's radio broadcasters.

"There are a lot of bigger goalies in the League that are super athletes and can move just as quickly as a small guy. So when you have a guy with a bigger blocking surface that can move just as fast (as most small goalies), you're probably going to trend in that direction."

So just how is the smaller Saros having so much comparative success?

After all, the fourth-round pick earned his way to the NHL by posting a 42-10-0 record in the American Hockey League.

Mason said one of the keys to Saros's game is his exceptionally quick ability to read and react to what's going on around him.

Video: WSH@NSH: Saros smothers Williams' one-timer in close

 "Playing goalie is such a different position than in most sports because you can't really go out and make things happen - it's completely reactionary," Mason said. "You have to adapt to what's coming at you. [Saros] seems to be able to identify what's happening and to react at a tremendous rate of speed.

"He's just got an incredible ability to recognize where he is in the net and where he has to go to make plays, especially when the puck is going across the ice. He's never out of position."

Saros's skating speed from post to post, as Carlson found out last Saturday, also serves the Finnish youngster well.

"Being a smaller guy, he has to get in position sooner than a big guy," Mason said. "He finds ways to get the center of his body mass in the shooting lanes, and I think that's why he's so efficient. He gets over and he gets his body right in the middle of the angle of where the puck is coming. He's almost perfected that, really, to be playing as well as he is in the NHL."

It's worth keeping in mind, of course, that Saros's 16-career NHL games represent a small body of work. He'll have to prove he can buck the odds in years to come as well as he has as a rookie.

"I'm sure he'll go through some ups and downs - it just happens," Mason said. "NHL shooters will get a book on you, and they'll adapt and try different approaches.

"But he's honestly one of the best goalies I've ever seen. If I was trying to be a goalie again now, I would try to emulate what Juuse Saros does because of his style of play."

Rinne, who's served as a mentor to Saros, offered a compliment of a different sort.

"I've known Juuse for maybe three years and from the first time I saw him on the ice, I never once thought about his size," Rinne said. "I'm sure he's faced a lot of comments about his size, a lot of doubts. But you can't tell that.

"He's a great, great goalie, and he's going to be even better. He's 21. He has a bright future ahead of him."

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