Just when many were ready to write this team off not even a quarter of the way through the regular season schedule, the Nashville Predators are suddenly stringing together win after win.
There are many factors at play for why the Nashville Predators have turned things around and just three points behind the second-place Winnipeg Jets, it would be foolish to not highlight first and foremost the two-pronged force of Juuse Saros and Kevin Lankinen.
I’m eating my words for what I said back in the offseason when the Predators unexpectedly signed Lankinen. Not because I thought Lankinen wasn’t a quality backup, but more so for believing Connor Ingram made more sense.
Nashville Predators Shooting up the Standings with Stellar Goalie Play
Lankinen had his best start of his NHL career against the New York Islanders on Friday night by quite literally carrying the Predators to another victory. He made 48 saves and posted a solid 2.35 Goals Saved Above Expected.
Gone are the days when you had to hold your breath whenever Saros took the night off on a back-to-back. The combination of Saros and Lankinen might be the best combo in the NHL.
Despite giving up three goals in a span of less than four minutes on Thursday against the New Jersey Devils, Saros remains in a positive trend after coming out of the gates a little rusty.
Yes, the Predators still have major offensive issues to improve upon. They go on far too many offensive lulls throughout the course of games, and it happened again late against Islanders.
The Predators appeared to be content with sitting back on their two-goal lead and instead needed Lankinen to bail them out time and time again. The Islanders outshot the Predators an astounding 40 to 16 after the first period. Just an enormous shot margin that will get you beat without elite level goaltending.
Lankinen came to the rescue to push the Predators to their seventh win in their last night, including another win over the Islanders in that stretch.
With this latest performance by Lankinen he is now up to 11th on MoneyPuck.com for Goals Saved Above Expected, and that’s as a backup. He absolutely should be someone’s primary starter and the fact that he landed with the Predators over the offseason for a modest one-year deal is making General Manager David Poile looking like a brilliant bargain aisle shopper.
Saros sits at 17th in Goals Saved Above Expected. Two goaltenders in the top-20 is just ridiculous. The next team to have two goaltenders ranked that high is the Montreal Canadiens with Jake Allen at 20th and Sam Montembeault at 10th.
I’m not sure how sustainable this is for the Nashville Predators as the season rolls on, but they for sure have a fighter’s chance to sneak back into the postseason for a ninth consecutive season thanks to the heroics in net from both Saros and Lankinen.
The next key to unlocking this team’s full potential and being considered a worthy team to go deep in the playoffs is finding a more consistent offensive attack and a power play that mirrors the one they sported last season that was top-10.