Nashville Predators: Goaltending Surge Sparking Playoff Push

Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne (35) and defenseman Mattias Ekholm (14) celebrate after beating the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne (35) and defenseman Mattias Ekholm (14) celebrate after beating the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Don’t look now but the Nashville Predators are making things mighty interesting with only 23 games left in their season and just four points out of a playoff spot.

Most of us had them dead in the water prior to the franchise record road trip that spanned over two weeks. They came out of that better than any of us could’ve expected, and a big reason why is the Predators are getting incredible goaltender from both Juuse Saros and Pekka Rinne.

No matter the deficiencies that the Predators have on paper against some of these other teams, they have a strong chance to continue this playoff push if these impressive goaltending performances continue.

Maybe we wrote the Nashville Predators off too early?

You have to like the Predators’ chances at least in the short term to continue to play well defensively, and in turn prop up the stellar goaltender play. They have another matchup with the Detroit Red Wings tonight, and then get the Chicago Blackhawks for a two-game set.

Before I go any further, I’m not going to pretend like the Nashville Predators are suddenly a force to be reckoned with just because of a successful road trip and a follow up win over the joke that’s the Red Wings. There’s still major weaknesses that need to be addressed in a rebuild of some sorts.

I also didn’t see the Predators suddenly getting much better defensive play and lights out goaltending from not one, but both goaltenders. I wasn’t even sure how Saros would look upon his return, but here we are.

The Predators are getting some outstanding play from Rinne and Saros. And at the same time, no less. It’s a promising one-two punch that you hope can continue to be reliable. If so, the Predators absolutely have a chance at another playoff appearance, miraculously.

Rinne and Saros are locked in

What the Predators do once they get into the playoffs is a whole other issue, and one that quite frankly has Predators fans nauseous due to their fear that GM David Poile will become a buyer instead of a seller, further kicking the proverbial can down the road.

But at what cost do we really want the playoffs only to likely be taken out unceremoniously by Tampa Bay or Carolina in the first round? Unless we think that Rinne and Saros are going to bottle up some spectacular play similar to what Rinne accomplished in the 2017 Stanley Cup run.

Even with the recent surge from Rinne and Saros, their numbers are still pretty bad overall this season. We can point to many factors, including a horrendous penalty kill, for why their numbers are so mediocre.

Now that the team is showing fight and hunger to produce better results defensively, perhaps Saros and Rinne can indeed boost their numbers to end this season.

I can’t get over how locked in Saros has been since returning from injury. He held the offensively loaded Florida Panthers to three goals over two games. Then he turned around and put up his first shutout of the season against one of the worst offensive teams in the NHL, but a shutout nonetheless.

Enjoy these huge saves that Saros put up against the Red Wings on Tuesday that helped him preserve the shutout:

As for Rinne, he’s played like he’s not ready to think about retirement just yet. He’s had his soft goals surrendered here and there, but for the most part he’s propelled the Predators’ chances of winning these low-scoring games.

Rinne is still surrendering a lot of goals, but he’s also making those incredible saves that he’s always made throughout his career that he has no business making. His last win over the Dallas Stars featured plenty of those saves, including one just before regulation ended as the Predator would eventually win in overtime.

As we all know, the Predators have their own troubles with generating consistent offensive output. They can obviously negate those struggles if Rinne and Saros are holding teams to two goals to three goals or fewer on a consistent basis.

Over their last five games the Predators have given up three goals or fewer and have gone 4-1-0 in that stretch. They have a decent chance to become that fourth place team in the Central Division if they’re holding teams to that goal total.

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It’s a good problem to have for Head Coach John Hynes to figure out who to start each night. I don’t think he can really go wrong, although it appears that Saros is ready to go through a similar hot streak that he was in before the pause last season.

How crazy it is that fortunes change so quickly in the NHL thanks to hot goaltending. We’ll have to wait and see what happens here in the next week or so in regards to the trade deadline and how this roster changes.

Regardless of what happens, the duo of Saros and Rinne hitting equally impressive hot streaks at the same time means the Predators might give us postseason hockey yet again when we all thought there was no way that would happen just a couple weeks ago.

My thoughts for what this team should do hasn’t changed in regards to the trade deadline. Sell what you can to get better for the long-term future, and continue to ride these young players who are playing their hearts out. If you combine that with Rinne and Saros playing as well as they have been as of late, then we might be onto something special over these last 23 games.