Juuse Saros was a man possessed in Dallas on Tuesday night. The Nashville Predators needed him to step up and he did in a big way.
A common cliche among the NHL is that you need your goaltender to be your best penalty killer. This is true in all situations, but it extends farther in my opinion. On most nights, you need your goaltender to be your best player, period. Juuse Saros took on the challenge of backstopping the Nashville Predators against a terrifyingly offensive Dallas Stars.
Dallas is known for their stars (puns!) like Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, or Alexander Radulov. But their line-up has gotten deeper over the past few years as certain prospects have made the jump to the NHL. Players like Gemel Smith, Mattias Janmark, Devin Shore, and most notably, Radek Faksa have contributed well this season. This isn’t the top-heavy Stars team that we’re accustomed to, although their top is still heavy, so to speak.
The call went up for Saros to defend the net, and he answered well, although with little help from his teammates. Let’s dive in.
Saros ended the night with a 95.6% save percentage as he saved 43 of 45 shots. When we solely look at five on five stats, Saros’ save percentage actually drops a little to 95.1%. All this means is that Saros was excellent at five on five and on the penalty kill.
45 total shots is a gargantuan total in general, but there was a lot of quality chances among the huge quantity. The Stars ended up with 36 scoring chances and 16 high danger chances at five on five. It’s safe to say that Saros was covering a lot of holes, especially Alexei Emelin who was on the ice for 10 of those high danger chances.
Nevertheless, Saros stayed strong and didn’t let the opposing team get to him. For all of those who don’t like numbers, let’s see some displays.
Let’s get visual, visual
Naturalstattrick.com provides an excellent heatmap of where each team got the majority of their shots. If you take a quick look below, you’ll notice that a Volcano erupted right in front of the net in Dallas’ offensive zone. You’ll also notice how none of the goals came from the red dot, with one being from the point and the other from the low circle. Not high danger areas by any means.
If you don’t like heatmaps because they’re too general and you’re a specific person, have no fear. Take a look below to see Hockeyviz.com’s chart, where each shot is individually marked.
First off, let’s ignore the three “shots” that come from outside the blueline because those are dump-ins that hit the net. The biggest thing that sticks out to me is all the blue marks, which means that these shots were headed towards the goal and saved. There are almost double the blue marks as gray marks, which were misses. What this means, in my opinion, is that the Nashville Predators were not putting enough pressure on their opponents and letting them get shots off easier. More pressure from the Predators means misses as opponents will not be able to fully corral the puck and take a lesser shot as a result.
Poor Saros, the area in front of his net is almost dominated by opposing shots, any average outing from even Carey Price would’ve most likely ended with four or five goals against.
Goalie of the future
Saros is, has been, and will continue to be the goalie of the future until Pekka Rinne decides to hang them up. After a rocky start, Saros has bounced back in a big way with outstanding performances in Carolina and Dallas. I hope the Nashville Predators start to trust him more so that he can take a few starts away from Rinne. No disrespect to Rinne, but I’d rather he stay rested for the playoffs.
Saros makes it much easier to rest Rinne when he’s dominating like he did against Dallas. Hopefully, a little bit of consistency ends up cementing Saros’ confidence.