Juuse Saros has been one of the few bright sparks for the Nashville Predators as of late. After two play-in games, the 25-year-old goaltender has stopped 57 of 63 shots faced. For someone facing his first postseason action, Saros is playing like he’s been here before.
Juuse Saros Backstops Predators
There was no question going into Game One that Juuse Saros would get the nod to start for the Predators. He was stopping shots left and right from the beginning of this season. In Game One Saros faced 14 shots on net in the first, 12 in the second, and another 11 in the final frame of the game. Despite letting up three goals in the first and another in the second, he stood tall and shut out the Arizona Coyotes in the third. The Predators’ effort to come back wouldn’t have been as close if Saros wasn’t as sharp between the pipes.
Rough Start to Game 1
At the end of the first period, Arizona had sucked the life out of the Predators after going up 3-1. Normally, when skaters let up and slow down, the goalie underperforms as well. This was nowhere near the case. Despite the lackluster Nashville offence, Saros was able to put life back into the team with each save. A kick save here, glove save there — Saros was fighting to keep the puck out to give Nashville a comeback chance. Nashville’s surge with under five minutes left wasn’t enough to tie it up. The Predators dropped Game One, but the team’s play toward the end was surely a sign of things to come.
Game 2 Bounce Back
Saros and the Predators stepped onto the ice on Tuesday afternoon with some zip in their strides. Saros, more specifically, was ready to go from puck drop. The Predators were outshot 14 to five in the first period. Not a single puck got behind the 25-year-old Finnish native. With 10:50 on the clock in the first, Saros stopped not one, not two, but three dangerous chances by Coyotes forwards Derek Stepan, Lawson Crouse, and Clayton Keller. There was nothing Saros couldn’t keep out of his net.
Saros continued to keep shots out of the net throughout almost the entirety of the game. He was the Energizer Bunny in this game for the Preds. Just like Game One, with each save Saros made there was an increase in the intensity of Nashville’s game. Saros couldn’t complete the shut out and let up two goals to end the game, but his performance played a major role in tying the series up and giving Nashville momentum going into the latter of a back-to-back.
Game Plan Moving Forward
The Predators can’t continue to rely on their goaltending to keep the game alive. With Game Three of the series being the day after Game Two, head coach John Hynes might opt to start Pekka Rinne in order to give Saros a much-deserved break. Rinne is not what he used to be, and Saros has practically taken the starting job from him.
Team leaders like Ryan Johansen, Roman Josi, and Matt Duchene need to step up their offensive production. On top of putting more pucks into the Coyotes net, they need to defend the rush better, too. If Rinne is to start Game Three, ensuring he has the time and vision to see an incoming shot, he will be crucial to taking the series lead from Arizona. They each showed up and notched points during Game Two, but they have to continue to apply pressure. Goaltenders Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta can only handle so many shots, as shown in Game Two. If Nashville is able to emphasize play away from the net, things will look up for them.