The Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars face off for the first time in playoff history on Wednesday in Smashville.
We’ve been previewing this matchup, looking at individual components of the game and who has the edge. Our first post was on the forwards and defense, you can check that out over here. In this post, we will focus on the goalie matchup.
And, boy, is it a heck of a matchup.
The Nashville Net
Obviously, the starter for the playoffs is going to be Pekka Rinne. For a minute there, it looked like Juuse Saros might get a sniff at a playoff start. But Rinne went 4-0-0 in his last four starts of the season with a .949 save percentage, so he looks in prime form for the playoffs.
Rinne has admittedly had an “up and down” season. He started off playing just as well as last year, going 12-5-1 in his first 20 games with a .930 save percentage. But any chance that he could put together back-to-back Vezina Trophy winning seasons was shot down in the months of January and February where he went 8-6-2 and managed only a .905 save percentage.
However, as I mentioned, he picked it up in the final couple weeks and heading into the playoffs looks just as confident as ever. And he seems well rested, thanks to the work of Juuse Saros.
Saros continues to be one of the best backup goalies in the league. He finished 17-10-2 with a .915 save percentage. Take a look at some of the numbers other backup goalies put up and you will immediately be thankful for what Saros can do.
At this point, I doubt Saros gets a start in the playoffs. But as we saw last year, Peter Laviolette will not be hesitant to pull Rinne if he feels he needs to. Hopefully this won’t happen, but if it does, the Preds feel confident that Saros can play well in the playoffs.
The Dallas Net
Ben Bishop is having a career season.
Since being traded away from Tampa Bay in 2017 and then eventually signing in Dallas that summer, the Stars have been waiting for this type of production from Bishop. He finished the regular season 27-15-2 with a .934 save percentage, the highest save percentage in a regular season in his career.
Health has always been his main issue, but he certainly seems to be healthy entering the playoffs. If he can stay in the lineup, he gives the Stars their best shot to win the series.
Backup goalie Anton Khudobin is also one of the best in the league. His record isn’t great at 16-17-5, but he has a .923 save percentage and over 16 goals saved above average (a metric that predicts the number of goals a goalie prevents compared to the league average).
And don’t forget that Khudobin has been excellent in his career against Nashville: he has a 3-3-1 career record with a .924 save percentage in nine games. If Bishop finds himself out of the lineup for whatever reason, the Preds won’t have it any easier with Khudobin in net.
Here’s the thing about this goalie matchup. While the Preds have the advantage in terms of playoff experience (Rinne has 83 playoff games under his belt, Bishop has 36, Saros has 6, Khudobin has 1), the Stars goaltending has been unbelievably good this season.
Especially when you look at some of the underlying numbers. Here’s a quick comparison of the advanced goalie stats of these four goalies courtesy of Corsica Hockey.
During 5-on-5 play, the Stars have had considerably better goaltending play. Though Rinne and Saros have certainly not been bad, Bishop and Khudobin have just been better.
Both Bishop and Rinne have been better at handling high danger shots, which tells you something about their style of play. Both are incredibly athletic and their league experience probably guides a lot of their instincts in net.
Given some of these numbers and given that Dallas has been one of the best defensive teams this season (only 2.44 goals per game, good for 2nd in the league), I think you have to give the goaltending edge to Dallas.
Goalie Edge: Dallas
— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —