Predators love second chances prevented by a glove hand that has roots in Finnish baseball and makes saves everywhere
It turns out Pekka Rinne and Pippa Middleton have a lot in common.
No, it’s not just unique and similar sounding first names.
Nor is it their connections to a Princess (Pippa’s sister, Kate, recently became one and Pekka’s new mask was painted by one).
Like Pippa after a stunningly dressed stint as her sister’s Maid of Honor at the recent Royal Wedding, Rinne felt like he was being discovered for the first time when Nashville finally made the second round of the playoffs and found themselves in the Canadian hockey spotlight against the Canucks.
Despite already being a worthy Vezina Trophy finalist and the unquestioned MVP of the Predators, there was a real sense of revelation when it came to Rinne’s spectacular play. Which seems as ironic to those who already knew how good he was, just as Pippa’s overnight “fame” must have left those who already knew her as a well-established socialite in England shaking their collective heads.
Much like Pippa’s newfound celebrity focused on one body part (a tightly clad backside), Rinne’s “overnight success” was tied to an active glove hand. After a handful of highlight reel stops with it in Game 1, Rinne’s glove was even trending on Twitter, with the hashtag #ThingsinRinnesGlove generating responses like “Jimmy Hoffa,” our favorite “Charlie Sheen’s dignity,” and, to continue the ties to British royalty, “Prince William’s hair.”
“It’s pretty funny,” Rinne said of his sudden popularity. “I guess it’s playing in Vancouver. We don’t really get to showcase ourselves in Nashville that often. It’s good for the whole team to have a lot of people following us.”
As Rinne continued to catch Canucks shots from everywhere, CBC television Icon Don Cherry called his the best glove in the NHL, which may be debatable, but few would argue it’s the most active. In addition to the traditional attempts to pick corners on his glove side, Rinne doesn’t hesitate to catch pucks in front of his body (instead of a more common gut trap), sometimes reaches across to pick them off backhand style on his blocker side, and will even scoop low shots along the ice in front of his pads rather than kicking those out.
There were times in the series it looked a little awkward and analysts pointed to it as a sign Rinne was fighting the puck and/or his poise. But that’s just how he does things. Nashville’s defensemen wouldn’t have it any other way.
Because one of the #ThingsinRinnesGlove is rebounds.
“He eliminates a lot of second chances himself but smothering pucks with his glove and he’s so good at catching and scooping pucks off the ice,” captain Shea Weber said. “I’d never seen it before until I started paying with him, first in Milwaukee (the Predators’ American League affiliate). He would scoop those pucks right off the ice if you were shooting for his far side pad. It’s an unbelievable skill, because without a doubt that’s a rebound on any other goalie that could possible come out for a second chance or another shot.”
Jonathan Blum figures Rinne’s glove prevents six-12 scoring chances a game.
“You come down the wing and if you don’t have a play you are taught to shoot off those pads for a big rebound in the slot that really causes chaos in front of the net and more time in the zone and more scoring chances,” said the Nashville defenseman. “But Pekka gets down low and uses that glove, sometimes right across his body and it helps us out. Most goalies are really structured in what they do with their goalie coaches, but Peks is just a terrific naturally athlete and he can make those plays and he’s comfortable with it.”
Again, none of this was news to those who already new him and his game.
In fact, Nashville Tennessean beat reporter Josh Cooper penned a mid-season feature on Rinne’s propensity for catching pucks, one in which long-time Predators goalie guru Mitch Korn compared him to a shortstop.
Which is fitting because Rinne developed his great glove while growing up playing Pesäpallo, the Finnish equivalent to American baseball.
“I played a lot of different kinds of ball games,” Rinne said. “Soccer and Finnish baseball, which is a little different than American baseball.”
Those differences include a smaller field and zig-zag base running across it, starting down what Americans would call the third base side after a hit.
“You almost have to see it,” Rinne said after several attempts to explain.
The main parts – hitting, throwing and catching a ball – are similar.
“You catch with a glove,” he said. “I guess it improves hand-eye co-ordination.”
All of which helps explain how Rinne developed such a good glove hand, a lesson that should not be lost on parents who channel their kids to one sport at an early age, let alone one position (don’t forget, Rinne’s late-blooming backup Anders Lindback didn’t become a full-time target until he was 14).
The other thing worth noting is Rinne hasn’t had his propensity for catching pucks coached out of him. While glove positioning is always unique to the individual goaltender, Finnish stoppers have traditionally held theirs more out in front of their bodies, and perhaps not coincidentally tend to have more active hands (think Niklas Backstrom and Miikka Kiprusoff, among others).
“That’s just the way I learned to play,” Rinne said of Finnish coaching. “I was taught to just try to prevent as many rebounds as I can and use my hands.”
Rinne says he wasn’t asked to change once he arrived in Nashville, which isn’t always the case. Consider, for example, the case of fellow Finnish stopper Jussi Rynnas, whose scouting tapes were filled with clips of him catching the puck, including on shots in front of his pads. But as Rynnas told InGoal Magazine earlier this season, after less than a season in the Toronto Maple Leafs system working with legendary goaltending coach Francois Allaire, he now relies less on his glove and more on his massive 6-foot-5 frame to make saves.
“Last year I get my confidence if I make good glove saves but here we just try to make the save with our body and freeze the puck,” Rynnas said.
It’s an interesting contrast, one with merit on both sides.
For all of Rinne’s success, Rynnas posted a .911 save percentage in his first season with the Toronto Marlies despite the difficult transition from Europe to the AHL. And there were certainly times in the playoffs you could argue that Rinne got caught opening holes by reaching with his hands; instances when more of a structured, close-the-holes style might have worked better, especially at 6-foot-5.
It’s all part of finding that balance between blocking and reacting, and it can be different for every goaltender, and often depends on their coach.
Rynnas believes firmly that Allaire’s way is his best chance to make the NHL.
Rinne said he wouldn’t even be in the NHL if he had to stop catching pucks. It feeds the rest of an amazing reactive game, one that allows him to make the kind of highlight reel saves that had people out of their seats and shooters scratching their heads in the second round.
“I know there are some coaches that want you to play a little bit different but that’s the way I have been playing my whole life,” Rinne said.
It’s how Rinne will continue to play, and given his performance during a season that ended in six games against the Canucks, he can plan to spend more of the rest of that life in the spotlight.
Just like Pippa.