Nashville Predators: How Incredible Was Saros Actually?

EDMONTON, AB - DECEMBER 14: Juuse Saros /

Juuse Saros was a demi-god against the Oilers as he suffered wave after wave of attack. The Nashville Predators have him to thank for the two points.

I saw a lot of people argue that the Predators winning against the Oilers was the sign of a great hockey team, but is it? The Nashville Predators got absolutely dominated by the Oilers in every aspect of the game except the scoreboard. I know that my statement will be met with “well that’s the only stat that matters”, and you’d be right in saying it. But what if the Predators had faced a team that isn’t solely McDavid and Draisaitl? What if the Cam Talbot wasn’t on injured reserve?

I’m glad that the Predators laid an egg against the Oilers rather than the Flames. The Flames are an actual good team and could easily punish Nashville for taking a night off. What I saw on Thursday was one man carrying a team while the other players got incredibly lucky. Juuse Saros was a man on fire, he met every challenge with a calm demeanor and played well. He was never caught out of position and never made a “dangerous” play.

Saros wasn’t without fault though, his glove hand was extremely weak. He fought the puck on simple shots from the point, especially if there was any traffic in front of the net. Despite his faults, Saros was perfect and kept Connor McDavid to no points, even though it looked close at times. The Oilers kept coming at Saros, so let’s take a look at what exactly he had to deal with and what help he received. But first, some context.

All stats are at five on five unless expressly stated otherwise. Any questions can be answered here or on twitter.

Numbers, and things of that nature

The Oilers totaled 46 shots, with 31 coming at five on five. They also amassed 30 scoring chances including 9 high danger chances. Of course, the game ended with zero goals, but the Oilers beat out the Nashville Predators in every category. The biggest stat of the year is that Rinne and Saros are saving 89.11% of high danger chances, up from the average 86%. Saros got 100% of them on Thursday and did it in style.

Edmonton did to Nashville, what Nashville did to Vancouver. In a phrase, possession domination. The Oilers beat out the Nashville Predators for a 62.86% Corsi and a 62.11% Fenwick. Johansen and co did little to get the offense started. But when they manage to escape their own zone, they likely scored. Call it capitalization, call it luck, call it whatever you want. All I know is that Saros was the reason for the win.

The whole enchilada

Take a quick look at the chart above and you’ll see that Edmonton shot from everywhere. The Nashville Predators employ an interesting defensive zone system where the wings drop a bit lower in the zone to take away the slot. As you can tell, it clearly didn’t work. The slot and points were mostly unpressured. The one bright spot is that the wings did a good job of keeping shots from outside the high slot as well as the center point area. Shots that come from either side of the point are saved about 98% of the time. So I’d rather give up a guaranteed shot from that low danger area than a shot from the center point that is a little more effective.

The Predators got a bit lucky on Thursday, not only on offense but also on defense. The Oilers missed 11 unblocked shots, including three from a high danger area. This kind of luck will not be around when the Predators face off against better teams. Let’s take a look at how the three first lines performed against Saros. To make it a little simpler, we’ll look at only the centers.


Before we continue, let’s all agree that Connor Mcdavid is a top two player in the world. He demonstrated such on Thursday and ran over the entire Nashville Predators. The shots on net were numerous and and of good quality while McDavid ran amok. I count 12 shots that hit the net, with eight coming from a high danger area. Saros had some issues with rebound control and McDavid made the most of it. This strategy of getting pucks to the net and collecting rebounds plays to the strengths of Milan Lucic. Jesse Puljujarvi looked good as well although he mostly played on the perimeter.

Saros got little help from his defense against McDavid. Shots from the point should be welcomed with joy as those are low danger, but eight shots from around the net is unacceptable. Especially from Mattias Ekholm who resorted to near illegal methods to stop McDavid. Roman Josi looked like a passenger on the ride as he chased Oilers from corner to corner. The good news is that Kyle Turris did a decent job of covering the high slot and keeping passes out of it. Turris isn’t known for his defensive prowess but played well. Kevin Fiala and Craig Smith also rose to the challenge.

Overall, McDavid destroyed the Nashville Predators but failed to beat the one man who mattered, Juuse Saros. Saros stood tall despite a lack of help from his defense.


This is a success story that got overshadowed by McDavid. No matter how you feel about Leon Draisaitl‘s contract (8.5 million, yikes), you can’t deny his scoring prowess. Him, Ryan Strome, and Jujhar Khaira were absolutely neutralized by the Subban pair and the Jarnkrok line. Filip Forsberg and Pontus Aberg actually did an incredible job of moving the puck out of their zone, but failed in stopping shots from the point.

As I said, points from the shot are relatively harmless, so the wings should be commended. Filip Forsberg was especially good at shutting down the defense, as he only surrendered two shots. Aberg was more porous but didn’t allow the defense to walk too far into the zone. Now, onto the real stars. Calle Jarnkrok protected the slot incredibly, and only allowed one shot from a near high danger area. The defense was perfect, whether it was the Josi or Subban pair. Both never gave up a high danger chance and only one shot from below the circle, but that was a no chance shot.

Saros wasn’t tested against the Draisaitl line, but played well regardless. The defense stood tall and the centers were good at keeping the slot clear. The wingers weren’t perfect but they did a great job at keeping defenders from dangerous areas. The Nashville Predators shut down the 8.5 million dollar man and kept him to barely any offense, thanks to a good team effort in front of Saros.


The Nugent-Hopkins line technically was the third line but it was mostly second line talent. This talented line ran over the Predators and the Jarnkrok line. Subban and Emelin couldn’t seem to figure out the tough net-front presence from Patrick Maroon. The Oilers had 13 shots with RNH on the ice, although they did miss two of them. Luckily for the Predators, both misses came from an extremely high danger area in front of the net. In fact, there were six high danger shot attempts, but only four hit the net. Even luckier is that Saros was there to bail out the Nashville Predators when those shots were on target.

The wings did a good job a relatively good job, although it looks opposite to Draisaitl’s line. Filip Forsberg was actually kind of weak on the defense as he “allowed” three shots. The centers were fine but probably need to drop in closer to the net to support the defense. Centers should be on high alert at all times, because there’s a weak defensive link on each pair. Whether it’s Josi, Emelin, or just the third pair altogether. Centers need to be ready at a moments notice to drop down and help out the defense. That can affect the breakout though, so it’s not a simple fix.

Going forward

The Nashville Predators didn’t play well at all against the Oilers and it showed. Saros bailed them out when the Predators needed it most, but that won’t last forever. Of course, Nashville will come back stronger than ever, but there are some lessons to learn. A similar wing system where wings take away the passing lanes can work when paired with when the center supports the defense in the slot.

Next: How On Earth Did Nashville WIn That Game?

The Predators have a good thing going and got a bit lucky. Let’s hope it’s a one-off and that Saros doesn’t have to continue to break records to win.