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VOL. 41 | NO. 45 | Friday, November 10, 2017

Rinne slows his approach to high-speed game

By John Glennon

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After leading Nashville to the Stanley Cup Finals earlier this year, goalie Pekka Rinne has changed his approach to the position. “Now when I see a guy coming through the neutral zone, I try to be already in my stance, and be quiet and ready. So, I feel like change has helped. It makes my game so much more efficient.”

-- John Cordes/Icon Sportswire Via Ap Images

When Pekka Rinne broke into the NHL in 2005, Paul Kariya was the Predators’ leading scorer, Ryan Suter a promising rookie and the team was playing in a building called the Gaylord Entertainment Center.

Over a decade later, Rinne is the fifth-oldest starting goalie in the league.

He turned 35 last Saturday, marking the occasion with the latest of several stellar performances this year. Rinne’s 35-save victory in Anaheim that night gave him six wins early in this season, along with some of the best statistical numbers of his career.

So, what’s the secret of his staying power? Even as Rinne is advancing in age, he’s still learning. And one of the most important lessons he’s gleaned over the past couple of seasons has been simple and straightforward: Less is often more.

That’s the easiest way to describe the less-complicated, more-efficient playing style Rinne has implemented over the past couple of seasons.

“It’s not an easy change because I feel like my strength as a goalie is being athletic, aggressive and active in front of my net,” Rinne explains. “I’m kind of trying to find a balance where I can still use those attributes, but also play a more-simple and more-efficient game.

“It’s almost more inside your head, having a different approach. You’re kind of trying to slow the game down, and sit back and watch it – not always attack the game as much.”

“Swallowed up”

The words “quiet” and “efficient” are being used more frequently to describe Rinne’s playing style these days.

Quiet describes Rinne’s ability to swallow up opposing shots on goal – freezing pucks by holding them tight to his body, instead of allowing dangerous rebounds around the net. Efficient describes Rinne’s more measured movement in the crease, a calming of the rapid reactions that might leave him out of position.

“It just seems like everything that’s hitting him is getting swallowed up or he’s controlling,” Predators defenseman Matt Irwin says. “His rebound control has been fantastic. There haven’t been a lot of rebounds. That makes life easier for us and we’re able to tie up sticks and help him out.”

Always looking to improve his game, Rinne adds he began to tweak his style prior to the 2016-17 season, following a year in which his save percentage had dipped to .908. He watched plenty of tape and worked with Preds goaltending coach Ben Vanderklok to implement changes in practice and carry them through to games.

“I’m trying to get set and ready earlier, and a lot of times that calms you down,” Rinne acknowledges. “Because in the past, I would wait on the goal line, and then charge out and be very aggressive, with quick movements.

“Now when I see a guy coming through the neutral zone, I try to be already in my stance, and be quiet and ready. So, I feel like change has helped. It makes my game so much more efficient.”

“Two seconds early”

Rinne has also picked up pointers by watching other NHL goaltenders.

One is Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky, who won the Vezina Trophy last season.

“Sergei Bobrovsky has a very quiet game,” Rinne says. “He’s very athletic and makes unbelievable saves, but he’s also got a good foundation. It’s very Zen-like. (Montreal’s) Carey Price is the same way.”

Another influence has been Chicago’s Corey Crawford, a Central Division rival who Rinne’s seen plenty of time over the years.

“He’s good at not over-playing,” Rinne points out. “So, things like that, I try to take notice of. He’s been very successful.”

Then there’s Rinne’s teammate and fellow Finnish native, 22-year-old Juuse Saros.

The 5-foot-11 Saros is one of the smaller goalies in the NHL, so he has to compensate for his stature with excellent anticipation and uber-efficient movement around the crease.

“He’s a good guy to watch because he’s had to find a way to be successful as an under-sized goalie,” Rinne says. “So, his positioning and his movements are probably better than most guys.”

Explains Saros: “It’s nice if he can take a little something from me. (Rinne) just looks like he doesn’t have to hurry anywhere now. It seems like he’s in the spot where he needs to be two seconds (early), so he’s not caught chasing. That kind of means you don’t have to make so many diving saves and stuff.”

Among NHL goalies who’ve started at least 10 games, Rinne began this week ranked in the top four in both save percentage (.930) and goals against average (2.19).

A more relaxed playing style seems to match a more relaxed outlook on the game for Rinne, who has always been one of the team’s more self-critical players.

“Sometimes I try to take everything on my shoulders and I am hard on myself,” Rinne says. “Now I just try to be relaxed and try to do my job, try to focus on that. I know it sounds simple, but that’s what I’m trying to follow.

“It’s feeling good so far and hopefully it continues like that.”

Reach John Glennon at glennonsports@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.

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