It may be a small sample size, but the Nashville Predators have a tough decision to make on how to balance out the starts for their two goaltenders.
There’s no doubting that the Nashville Predators have two solid options in net with Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros. Rinne may be a future Hall of Famer, and Saros seems to have a bright future as Nashville’s future franchise goaltender.
Going into the season I expected Saros and Rinne to come close to splitting the starts evenly. The Predators have played nine games so far in 2019-20, and Saros has started just three of those. They’ve all ended in losses, but it’s up for debate on how much those losses have been his fault.
On the other hand, Rinne has been very sharp. Age doesn’t seem to be catching up to him at all. In fact, it’s making it tough to pull him out of net on any given night. For whatever reason, the Predators are playing better in front of Rinne than they are in front of Saros. Let’s take a look at how each one has looked so far, and how the Predators should handle this moving forward.
Saros has stumbled out of the gate
No doubt it’s a bad start for Saros. He’s been in net for three of the team’s four losses this season, and they’ve all come in regulation. His save percentage is also at a horrendous .853 as he’s saved just 81 of the 95 shots he’s faced. Maybe not a massive sample size, but enough to certainly get your attention.
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All things considered, Saros isn’t doing that bad in high-danger situations. He’s actually making the tough saves in really tough situations. His high-danger save percentage is at 83.33, which is considerably higher than Rinne’s high-danger save percentage of 73.91. Not the end all be all, but it tells me Saros isn’t completely to blame for his bad overall save percentage.
Simply put, the defense hasn’t exactly been stellar in Saros’ three starts. When you see the competition he’s lost against, it’s even more puzzling. His losses are to the Red Wings, Kings and Coyotes. Not exactly world-beaters. Especially the Coyotes, a team not known for being very strong offensively. But he still surrendered four goals to them on 31 shots faced.
Saros is actually struggling the most in mid-danger saves. This percentage is at 75, which is nearly worst in the league. In comparison, Rinne is thriving here so far. He’s making the saves he’s supposed to make, while Saros has to start doing better here. You also can’t just gloss over the fact that Saros is just age 24 and has very respectable career numbers through 82 games.
How to juggle the two goaltenders
My stance hasn’t changed too much over three starts. Am I moderately concerned with the start from Saros? Sure, but I also know that it’s not all on him. He’s performing well in situations when there’s a high probability for the opposition to score a goal. He just needs to lock in better in the easier scenarios.
I would expect Saros to get the start tomorrow night against the Minnesota Wild. Another good spot for him against a team that’s not exactly scary offensively. He desperately needs a good start under his belt for this new season. We know he’s more than capable of that. Let’s also hope his luck turns around as far as his team playing better in front him.
As far as taking starts away from Saros and giving more to red-hot Rinne than maybe was previously planned, I wouldn’t go down that road yet. I’d stick to the initial plan going into the season of giving Saros plenty of starts, and coming close to splitting the starts down the middle.
However, this is a situation worth monitoring closely. If Saros keeps struggling badly, then you’ll have to change plans. It can’t get to the point where it’s costing the team valuable points in the standings because you want to give Rinne plenty of rest. The Central Division is already going to be tightly contested, and every point is going to matter greatly.
For now, Saros hasn’t lost my confidence in the slightest. He needs one solid start under his belt to get things rolling and for him to get locked back in. Just like a baseball player being stuck in a hitting slump. It happens to the best of them.
I think Saros is primed for a couple good starts, and it begins hopefully tomorrow night against a Wild team that scores near the bottom in goals per game and in the bottom half of the league in power play efficiency.