2017 Stanley Cup Final Preview: Matt Murray vs Pekka Rinne
It’s finally here. After a month and a half of playoffs, the Stanley Cup Final begins Monday in Pittsburgh. Last year’s Cup winning goalie Matt Murray of the Penguins faces off against Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators. It’s a contrast in styles in many ways: the efficient Murray versus the active Rinne, but there are nuances to each goalie’s game.
Murray’s season was quite solid, especially for a 22-year old in his first year as a starting goalie. His overall numbers were enough to push him into the Vezina conversation, if not enough to get him a nomination. He did play only 49 games, however, and has only 5 playoff appearances this season. In statistical terms, that’s not much.
If five games are enough to get on a roll, however, Murray’s on one, coming into the Final with a .946 in all situations. Given enough time, that would regress towards his .925 career numbers. Seven games, though, is often not enough time.
As a young player, Murray is still well within the NHL learning curve. Known for a well-rounded game, Murray has excellent footwork and great control. He reads plays well and since he doesn’t take excessive depth initially, he’s often in a good position to follow the play as it moves.
It’s tough to spot a lot of trends when a goalie is as technically tight as Murray is. If there’s one trend to notice, it’s the proportion of goals he allows through the body.
Compared to other playoff goalies, Murray gives up more goals under the arms and above the pads, a tendency more pronounced on the glove side than the blocker. It’s a function of how he moves towards his left, under-rotating and leaving himself reaching more on that side. And if there is one place where Murray can overcommit, it’s on plays coming up the wings. A tendency to set up outside of his posts at times can make it tougher to recover to the center.
Murray also gave up a higher than average number of goals on the rebound, something that can increase those over-the-pad goal numbers. Look for bounces coming off of his glove, especially on shots with quick releases.
Somehow this genial Finn has become a lightning rod of controversy in online hockey circles, which tells you mostly not to pay much attention to a lot of what goes on in online hockey circles. Rinne is better than the stats give him credit for and worse than the lovers of highlight reels want to believe. He’s an up and down goaltender, inconsistent largely because of his aggressiveness, but he’s backstopped the Preds to a playoff berth six out of the nine seasons he’s been their starter.
This season is a great example of the phenomenon. A well below league average save percentage in October, December, February; and well above in November, January, April, and May. A seesaw of a year. He’s been both great and terrible. And now he’s in the Stanley Cup Final.
For all of his deserved reputation as an aggressive, overactive goaltender, Rinne has worked to rein that in to a degree in recent seasons. This year, perhaps, has been his most successful at it. When he’s on, he’s able to harness a superior puck tracking ability and his explosiveness to a kind of control that his game has been lacking often enough. When he isn’t he relies largely on long limbs and quick reflexes to get him out of trouble.
Rinne’s glove is well known; he can catch pucks at almost any angle and smart opponents shoot on him blocker side. It was a tendency on display during the Anaheim Ducks’ series in Round 3. The Ducks seemed to be targeting his blocker side with rising shots up and over the shoulder.
Less discussed is his vulnerability on the posts and backdoor. Rinne’s recent addition of the Reverse Vertical Horizontal stance for managing plays dipping below the bottom of the faceoff circles or coming out from behind the net is not completely instinctual for him.
He holds his skates longer than most, and has a tendency to get caught in transition and before he has fully sealed the post, leading to post-side goals over his shoulder or around his arm. When in the reverse, he’s less mobile and fluid than during other parts of his game.
But perhaps the biggest surprise has been how important screens and deflections have been in scoring on Rinne this season. Nearly half (49%) of Rinne’s regular season goals contained either a screen or a deflection or both, compared to 38% for all playoff starters. He was well above the average for playoff goalies in both of these categories and that trend has continued during the playoffs, where 14 of the 28 goals he’s given up have been screened or deflected. This could be a key way for the Penguins to attack Rinne.