Nashville Predators: Exhibition Shows There’s Two Worthy Starters

Pekka Rinne #35 and Juuse Saros #74 of the Nashville Predators (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
Pekka Rinne #35 and Juuse Saros #74 of the Nashville Predators (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Nashville Predators’ long-awaited exhibition game against the Dallas Stars is over. Juuse Saros and Pekka Rinne both made their case as worthy starters.

The Nashville Predators prevailed in their pre-playoff matchup against the Dallas Stars, shutting them out 2-0. This game was a good primer before the real contest begins against the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday.

This exhibition game was highly-anticipated and had more intensity than a normal preseason game in September .

Not only did we get a look at the post-training camp Predators, but we also got a great look at the goaltenders. Juuse Saros and Pekka Rinne split the game down the middle, providing each with quality playing time to show coaches where they’re at.

I’m not sure Head Coach John Hynes’ decision got any easier, but you have to lean towards Saros after you consider everything that’s happened since just before the pause up until now.

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How Did We Get Here

One of the hottest topics going into training camp and before this exhibition was goaltending. Would Hynes go with the veteran who has nearly 100 games of playoff experience or the heir-apparent who had a hot streak going before the season pause?

Rinne had a season that started hot, but then drastically went downward. If you don’t count his first two seasons where he only played in a handful of games, this season was his worst.

Lopsided losses started to occur regularly with Rinne as the starter. He was letting in his fair share of soft goals, while the defense in front of him was giving him very little resistance.

Saros stepped up his play after that and became Hynes’ preferred goaltender. He settled things down at just the right time to keep the Predators in the hunt, and now here we are over four months later.

Before the season pause, Saros caught fire.  He recorded four shutouts in the second half, including two in a row against the Stars. By all accounts, the torch had been passed, and Saros was the new starting goaltender.

Right before training camp started, a bit of a controversy was started by GM David Poile. In a radio interview with 104.5 The Zone’s Midday 180 Poile said that the starting goaltender spot was up for grabs and would need to be decided in training camp.

All of the stock that Saros had built up before the pause was gone. Thus started the constant conversation about whether Rinne or Saros should get the nod against the Coyotes.

Training camp came and went, and we didn’t get a clear picture of who would be starting against the Coyotes. The exhibition has come and gone, and there’s still no clear answer.

This is a good problem to have

Saros got the start against the Stars, but we still don’t have any indications of who will start on Sunday. We may not find out until just hours before the puck drops. This indicates that Hynes is still weighing his options.

With a back-to-back scheduled between Games 2 and 3, there’s a high chance that both Saros and Rinne see action as starters in this series. It’s a truly unique situation that puts the Predators in a strong position.

Saros looked great throughout his time in the net, but wasn’t tested as much in the first period. The Predators jumped on the Stars from the get-go and were stingy with the puck, while also clogging up shooting lanes.

When Saros was tested, he looked as if the season pause had never happened. Before being pulled in favor of Rinne halfway through the second period, Saros stopped all 12 shots that came his way.

By the time Rinne came into the game, the Stars had begun turning up the pressure. He was immediately tested and tested often. He performed like the Rinne of old stopping all 13 shots that came his way, and these were of the tougher variety.

The shots that Rinne stopped were a little harder for him to see. He had a nice glove save in traffic against a Mattias Janmark slapshot.

One glaring example of how hard the Predators worked during training camp was their penalty kill. Whenever they were on the penalty kill, players would stack up in front of the goaltender to prevent shots.

Nothing the Stars shot even made it to the goaltender when they were on the power play. The Predators did an excellent job on defense and sacrificed their bodies throughout the game to block eighteen shots on goal.

Who Will Hynes Pick?

If Hynes’ choice was tough before, it is even tougher now. Both Saros and Rinne looked excellent in this exhibition. Both made their case for being the starter against the Coyotes.

The intensity that Rinne showed may give him the upper hand and, ultimately, the nod. When you combine that with his experience, he is a great choice to start. He stopped a higher quality of shot against the Stars.

This is taking nothing away from Saros. He stopped some exceptional shots as well, but the Stars didn’t have their legs under them when Saros was in the net.

Related Story. Nashville Predators Blank the Dallas Stars Again in Exhibition Win. light

Whichever goaltender ultimately starts has to feel good about the team in front of them. The Predators put in some defensive work during training camp, and it showed.

Furthermore, the Predators are going up against a Coyotes team that wants to slow the game down and rough it up. They’d love to keep the score low and just control possession. So if the Predators can crack that code and put up three or four goals, then either choice should work.

Now the real work starts on Sunday. If the Predators can keep their focus, clean up a few things from the exhibition game, and the starting goaltender can continue with this intensity, they should be just fine when they take on the Coyotes.