Nashville Predators: Did Juuse All Those Incredible Saves?

(Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Nashville Predators had a chance to quickly apply lessons learned in Minnesota. Last night, they tightened the screws and rode Juuse Saros to a victory.

The Nashville Predators certainly rode a wave of bad news coming into last night’s contest. Team superstar Filip Forsberg is now on injured reserve following an undisclosed upper-body “problem” sustained the previous night. Many, myself included, wondered if the team’s offense could survive. It might seem dramatic, but few players understand situations and timely goals quite as well as Nashville’s number nine.

For the first forty minutes last night, both teams’ offensive abilities were in question. Nashville held the lead in shots on goal at 19-18, but the backup goaltenders each seemed prepared for any challenge. The third period, fortunately for the sellout crowd, was a completely different story.

Trending upwards

It’s common for the Nashville Predators to win games in spite of poor puck possession. The second period certainly helped set up the game-winning third for Nashville. The Predators won a battle they’ve struggled with all season: discipline. The Wild committed three penalties to the home team’s zero, which swung all the momentum in Nashville’s favor.

This trend is reflected in the shot generation through the game. Take a look at how the second period carried right into the third:

Once the first goal, a beautiful wraparound by veteran Scott Hartnell, was scored, Minnesota began to collapse. Their power play was entirely ineffective, finally resulting in a goal-producing man-advantage for the Predators.

Viktor Arvidsson, not wanting to miss the fun, put away the empty-netter in the closing minutes. The look of relief on his face told the story well; Nashville battled hard in a grind of a hockey game, and emerged victorious.

Musical chairs

With the absence of a player like Filip Forsberg, there will be ripples felt through each forward line. Frederick Gaudreau, of course, was called up to fill the vacant roster slot, and played alongside Cody McLeod and Austin Watson.

The most interesting adjustment came to the first line, which often features Forsberg on its left wing. Calle Jarnkrok rose to the top to join Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson. It’s an unusual assignment for Jarnkrok, who frequently plays a very defensively-minded game. Certainly, there’s nothing defensive whatsoever about Nashville’s first forward line.

Using unblocked shot percentage (FF%), high-danger chance percentage (HDCF%), and offensive zone start percentage (oZS%), here’s how the adjusted first line performed:

Järnkrok – Johansen – Arvidsson (5-on-5)

Looking at the last column, you can see why it’s an unfamiliar role for Jarnkrok. As a member of the third line, Jarnkrok often has an offensive zone start percentage of 40% or less. For him to see three-fourths of his faceoffs in the offensive zone was probably a relief, but required an adjustment nonetheless.

Their possession numbers are consistent with the first line’s season so far. They dominated shot attempts, but allowed Minnesota to win the battle in the slot. That said, considering Nashville produced just five high-danger chances to Minnesota’s eleven, 40% isn’t too bad for one line.

Pedal down

The Nashville Predators now look ahead to a lengthy road trip out west. They’ll visit two dominant opponents in Vegas and Los Angeles. Additionally, their maturity will be tested as they take on a sputtering Arizona Coyotes. It has trap game written all over it; the Predators must approach each game with the same determination.

It’s a big week for personnel as well. Somewhere along the road trip, Ryan Ellis is expected to return to the lineup. Additionally, with the nature of Forsberg’s injury unclear, it’s possible that he could return for the final game of the trip.

Next: Five Thoughts For Friday, Dec 29th

The Nashville Predators signed off on a historic 2017 calendar year with a huge shutout in Music City. It’s exactly what the team needed as they close in on another run at the playoffs.