The NHL Western Conference Semifinal between the Phoenix Coyotes and Nashville Predators features two of the best goalies in the NHL through the regular season and so far in the post season. Both Mike Smith and Pekke Rinne have been lathered with praise this year.
The starting goalies in the upcoming series have a number of things in common. In both cases their coaches systems get mentioned an awful lot too. While their teams defensive oriented systems certainly help the two starters in this series aren't two players whose lives are made easy by their teams systems. If anything, their teams lack lack of high end skill means they have to be difference makers most nights. Both sets of goalies are coached by two of the best goalie coaches in the business in Sean Burke and Mitch Korn. This means even if one of the goalies has an off night don't expect their poor play to last. The goalie coaches will likely help their charges deal with whatever physical or mental issues need to be corrected quickly.
#41 / Goalie / Phoenix Coyotes
Mar 22, 1982
|2011 - Mike Smith||67||3903||38||18||144||2.21||2066||1922||.930||8|
Smith's regular season performance this year was so good that the national and local media had him in the Vezina conversation at the end of the season. His performance against the Chicago Blackhawks in for the first round has people talking about him as a Conn Smythe candidate. The Coyotes starting goalie only played in one of the four games against the Predators in the regular season. The game was the last game between the squads and was full of offensive fireworks. Smith gave up four goals and lost the shootout. Given the nature up and down nature and poor defensive performances in the game I wouldn't take much stock in Smith performance as a predictor in how he will do in the upcoming series. The Coyotes netminder had an amazing .950 save percentage in the Dogs first round series with Chicago. If you want to read more about Smith's (and Labarbera's) playing style check out our goalie preview from the Hawks series.
#1 / Goalie / Phoenix Coyotes
Jan 18, 1980
|2011 - Jason LaBarbera||19||1015||3||9||43||2.54||486||443||.912||0|
Barbs played in three out of the four games against the Predators in the regular season and performed quite well. He went 2-1 and only gave up 2 goals in the game he lost. Even though he played extremely well against the Preds, don't expect to see him in this series unless Smith gets injured or the coaching staff thinks Smith needs a break.
#35 / Goalie / Nashville Predators
Nov 03, 1982
|2011 - Pekka Rinne||73||4169||43||18||166||2.39||2153||1987||.923||5|
Rinne like Smith has been in the Vezina and Conn Smythe conversation. As a matter of fact, he was named one of the three Vezina finalists earlier today. Also, like Smith, the Finnish goalie started the vast majority of his team's games in the regular season and all of his team's first round contests. In addition, he's also athletic like Smith as well. Unlike Smith this isn't Rinne's first year playing like an elite NHL goaltender. He had a stellar season in 2010-2011 as well and has a career save percentage of .921. He has one of the best glove hands in the league and doesn't give up on the puck until it crosses the goal line. Rinne had a .944 save percentage in his the Predators five game series with the Red Wings.
#39 / Goalie / Nashville Predators
May 03, 1988
|2011 - Anders Lindback||16||792||5||8||32||2.42||364||332||.912||0|
The Swedish backup is only in his second season playing in North America. He's been Rinne's backup the last two years. He's a solid goalie, but he's not as refined at this point in his career as Rinne is. He's even taller than Smith and takes up a lot of net space due to said size. Just like in Lababera's case, you'll likely only see Lindback if Pekke Rinne gets hurt.
The starting goalies in this series are fairly evenly matched. The main difference is Rinne has a better glove hand while Smith is a better puck handler. It's a toss up. In addition, both backups have shown they can come in and play well, at least in the regular season, if needed. Based on the numbers and the goalies first round performances its likely some other area will make the deciding difference in who wins the series.