Better goaltending and defensive efforts is what it’s going to take for the Nashville Predators to get back in the playoff picture.
That’s exactly what the Nashville Predators did against the New York Rangers to get the 5-2 win at Madison Square Garden. The final score doesn’t really indicate how close and nerve-racking the game was.
The Predators added two empty net goals late in the game after the Rangers cut the lead in half with Artemi Panarin‘s 20th goal of the season. It came with under three minutes left in regulation, which is more than enough time to get the equalizer and force overtime.
Needless to say, I didn’t want to see this thing stretch to overtime. When you have a team like the Predators struggling to string together wins, getting just one point in overtime isn’t good enough anymore. They had to figure out a way to grind this thing out after Panarin’s goal.
Juuse Saros‘ big night
A major key to unlocking the full potential of the Predators is seeing their two very talented and accomplished goaltenders start playing more consistently. The Predators needed a big night from Juuse Saros to secure this victory, and that’s what they got.
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Saros stopped 39 of 41 shots faced by the speedy Rangers. They tested him early and often. One goal he gave up was the product of a turnover at mid-ice and scoring on a rush. It tied the game and came less than a minute after Rocco Grimaldi‘s goal opened up the scoring.
I don’t put much blame on Saros for that goal, but more on the Predators for playing sloppy in the neutral zone. Dante Fabbro lost control of the puck in a bad area of the ice and the Rangers pounced on the opportunity.
After that, Saros really stayed locked in and the Predators were able to take advantage of some of the few scoring opportunities they got to widen the lead to 3-1. Saros had to make tough save after tough save to keep the Rangers at just one goal.
Saros claims his 5th victory of the season and gets his save percentage nearly back to 90 after such a bad start. He also has his goals against average back under three goals per game. He’s now given up two goals or less in five of his last eight starts.
I’ve already said that Saros deserves the majority of the starts from here on out. Unless he completely falls apart, which I don’t see happening, he gives the Predators the best chance to win on most nights. This will also help Pekka Rinne be more rested when he does get starts.
Others who stood out
How about the outstanding night from our captain Roman Josi? His go-ahead goal to make it 2-1 in favor of the Predators was a beauty. He simply took the puck up the ice with his speed and sniped a shot past Alexander Georgiev to get him his 8th goal on the season.
I’m not going to deprive you of seeing this goal if you haven’t already:
That took some pinpoint accuracy from Josi to bury that shot. This is what makes him so lethal in the open ice. He can generate goals mostly on his own.
On the third goal for the Predators we saw a highly-difficult lob pass from Nick Bonino up the boards and landed perfectly in front of a breaking Mattias Ekholm. Ekholm had just come out of the penalty box, and Bonino made a great defensive play to get control of the puck from the Rangers.
This was another example of the Predators just being opportunistic. They were making the most of their few opportunities, and also getting some fortunate breaks as the Rangers hit the post once and also had a puck narrowly stop in its track from going over the goal line.
As for Ekholm’s goal, he blasted the puck past Georgiev with some authority. This was shortly after Ekholm had throw in his stick up in the air in frustration for getting called for cross-checking.
I liked what I saw from Yakov Trenin despite only being on the ice for just under eight minutes. He generated three shots on goal and forced a lot of pressure. He’s starting to settle in and play his role nicely as we wait for Viktor Arvidsson to return to the starting lineup.
The Predators need a string together a nice little winning streak here. They can’t afford to alternate wins and losses anymore. This is obviously a positive step over a team that’s been playing much better, but they can’t let up.
One thing to keep in mind is the Predators have played fewer games in the Western Conference than every other team. Their point deficit is a little misleading because they do have some games in hand on everyone else in the conference. For instance, they’re seven points behind Dallas but have played three less games.
With this win the Predators even their road record at 6-6-1 and are now 5-3-2 over their last ten games. Their goal differential creeps up to plus-4.
Up next is the New York Islanders, who are one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. They’ve played just 31 games, fewest in the NHL, but still have 46 points which is fourth-most in the NHL.