As we can see three games into this series, the story is goaltending- Luongo vs. Rinne, two of the three Vezina Trophy finalists. To be honest, from a goaltending stand point, I was a little nervous about Pekka after his play in the first round against the Ducks. Luckily the Preds closed out that series in 6 games, giving Rinne time to work with Mitch Korn, the Preds' goalie coach, and tighten up his game.
A brief history of Mitch Korn is that in 1991, Korns was hired by the Buffalo Sabres to coach Dominic Hasek. During Korn's time in Buffalo, Hasek won 4 Vezinas and 2 Harts (League MVP). In 1998, Korn took the job of goaltending coach with the Nashville Predators. Having attended and been an instructor for Korn's goalie camps (and knowing him for 9 years), his coaching style is strict on fundamental principles of goaltending (like proper t-pushes, shuffles, body and glove position), but allows goaltenders to avoid being a cookie cutter goaltender; rather, develop their own style and identity. Mitch also does a wonderful job of teaching to the strengths of goaltenders. For example, Pekka and Anders are almost identical in size and weight, but Pekka is mainly a reaction style goaltender with some blocking style tendencies, whereas Anders relies heavily on his size and plays a much more blocking style than reaction. Mitch has given Pekka the tools to be a successful goaltending in the NHL but has also let Pekka take the wheel and craft his own style to goaltending that we can all agree, is a little different.
Before we begin the strengths and weaknesses of Peks, I cannot stress the importance of a 6 game series because it allowed some extra time for Pekka to adjust his style of play before facing Vancouver. He was playing passively against the Ducks and had a slow post save response which left him either flopping like a fish or arriving late to the rebounds. He was also having a lot of trouble getting around screens and was having trouble recovering after the first save. In my personal opinion and after reviewing the video of that first series, Pekka was trying to me more of a blocking style goalie, which he is built for and don't get me wrong is good at, but his strength is reading and reacting to the puck. With all that being said, Peks has clearly elevated his play in this second round series.
And now the fun begins....
- No surprise that Pekka's best strength is his reaction style game combined with a blocking style position game. As I said before, Pekka has the build to play a completely blocking style game, which is essentially, "If I am in perfect position, when that shot comes, it should hit me without me reacting to it". Problem with this is that with today's shooters, if there is any angle whatsoever, they will hit it (thank you Selanne). What Pekka has been doing so well this series, is getting into the blocking style position then once the shot is released, he reads the puck and reacts to it.
- Reaction time. I'm sure everyone has heard about Pekka's amazing glove. Not only is his ability to catch the puck attributed to his reaction time, but a better example of his lighting fast reflexes is that there are times when Pekka makes a glove save and he does not even close his glove; he simply cradles the puck in his glove.
- Aggressiveness. Last series Pekka was either caught too deep or in the stages of adding depth (challenging the shooter). So far against the Canucks, Rinne has been seen making saves at the top of the crease where he uses his size to his advantage. The ability to challenge the shooter is a direct result of Pekka's improved skating ability....
- ....which is another one of his strengths. Pekka relies on his quickness and explosiveness to arrive early for a shot, which is essential for the save process because it allows Pekka time to get set or, using his improved skating ability, to add more depth to his position and cut down angles.
- As I said before, Rinne is a better reaction type goalie than blocking. He can get into trouble when he uses blocking a bit too much. For example, (and this is simply an example of using blocking at the wrong time), on Kesler's first goal in game 3, Shane O'Brien dropped to his knees to try and block Ehrhoff's potential shot, which may have hindered Pekka's visual attachment, forcing him to guess and drop down into a blocking butterfly (notice how he dropped down and brought everything in tight and locked his elbows to his side).
- When the puck is in tight, Pekka loves to knee shuffle to stay on angle with the puck which is the correct thing to do. The problem is that Pekka can get lazy and not bring his trailing leg in tight quick enough, leaving the 5 hole open momentarily (but that's all it takes).
- Pekka also loves to scramble and he is good at it. Where he gets into trouble is when his scrambling either causes him to take himself off angle or lose his balance resulting in the top of the net being open or causing him to open up holes on the ice.
- Rinne has trouble occasionally with his angles and at times, does not have the puck centered in his chest. This causes him to have to shift into the puck. Also, he has been having trouble with looking around players the wrong way, which takes him off angle and again, forces him to shift into pucks, leaving him vulnerable for tips or rebounds.
- Pekka also has some trouble having an active stick on quick response shots. Rather, he will kick out his leg instinctively as a reaction to a puck that is traveling towards his leg pad (which is a bad habit because pucks will fly out into the slot. With an active stick, he would be able to direct the puck into the corners).
So Vancouver, how do you score on Peks? Lots of puck movement. After a few passes, the likelihood that Peks is off angle is increased (as with all goalies really). Also, after a few passes, Peks will be anticipating shot which could lead to a blocking style butterfly, and because Peks loves to scramble, his post save response will be effected, leaving net open. Also, keep shots low to his leg pads and crash the net with sticks on the ice. Note to the Sedin's, now is the time to pull out those fancy, highlight reel passing plays.