What an Eastern Conference road trip it was for the Nashville Predators as they capped it off Thursday night in one of the wildest games of the year against the Montreal Canadiens.
The Predators dropped their second-straight game after winning four in a row with a 4-2 loss to Montreal. A game full of defensive breakdowns, puck chasing and the debut of Yaroslav Askarov in net.
The road trip started with utter chaos and ended in more chaos. The Predators finish with a 3-2-0 record and fall to 19-16-6 overall. Still right on the doorstep of the wildcard at just three points behind.
Road Trip Starts with Fireworks in Carolina
The game in Carolina should’ve without a doubt been a resounding loss for the Nashville Predators, but Juuse Saros turned in one of the single-best games by a goaltender in NHL history with 64 saves.
For the Hurricanes’ 67 shots on Saros, it was tied for the fourth-most in NHL history and was the highest since the Boston Bruins did it in 1991 with 73 shots on goal.
The Predators knew they were fortunate to get a win and that Saros literally saved them from opening the road trip with a loss.
Despite all of the defensive lapses and shots given up, the Predators did come up clutch with some huge goals. They had to storm back to tie the game three times with tying goals from Filip Forsberg, Mattias Ekholm and Cody Glass.
“We’re a resilient group. Any time we get down like that, we know what we’re capable of. We don’t panic, we just bounce back” -Mark Jankowski on Team Resiliency at Carolina
Mark Jankowski would eventually get the go-ahead goal with still nearly 15 minutes left of regulation for the Hurricanes to just tee off on Saros.
Jankowski told the team’s official website about how resilient the group is when they’re facing a deficit. They did show that to open the road trip.
Nashville Predators tame the Capitals, Blank the Senators
I was skeptical that the Predators would be able to come out of their game against the Capitals with a win after what happened the night before at Carolina. I figured they would be totally gassed and have a letdown game.
Kevin Lankinen got the start following Saros’ epic performance and showed why he is such a quality backup. He posted a .938 save percentage as the Predators penalty kill stayed hot blanking the Capitals power play in three attempts.
It was another game where goaltending bailed out the Predators. They only managed 21 shots on goal and missed out on two power play chances of their own. Just simply not sustainable in the long-term.
Fortunately the Predators did still manage three goals, with the highlight reel go-ahead goal from
with less than four minutes in regulation remaining. It was his first with the Predators:
After the Capitals win, the Predators got a short break before taking on a young and fresh Ottawa Senators team. Another tricky opponent that the Predators couldn’t take lightly.
From an offensive standpoint this was the best game of the road trip. The Predators opened with more defensive breakdowns and Saros having to pick up where he left off in Carolina, but eventually the team settled down.
The Predators would up their shot total to 36 shots and did much better protecting Saros with 22 blocks. Another great night for the penalty kill going 5-for-5, and another horrendous night for the power play going 0-for-5.
It was Saros’ first shutout of 2022-23 and his 19th of his career. He’s third all-time in shutouts for the Nashville Predators and needs two more to tie Tomas Vokoun for second on the list. I think you all know who has the top spot, and it’s Pekka Rinne with 60. Long ways to go, Juice.
Two Losses Overshadows a Rollercoaster Road Trip
You can argue that the 2-1 loss to the Maple Leafs was one of their better played games of the road trip, and yet a late power play goal surrendered left them without even a point in the standings.
Again, the goal support just isn’t there for Saros. The team scored three goals or less in four of the five games. Not good enough in today’s NHL of high-scoring teams. Only eight of the 32 NHL teams average under three goals per game, and yes the Nashville Predators are one of them.
Holding the Maple Leafs to two goals is still a pretty amazing accomplishment as Saros strung together another outstanding performance. Depending on where the Predators finish in the standings, Saros has to be emerging as a frontrunner to win his first Vezina Trophy.
Tanner Jeannot and Cody Glass led the Predators in shots on goal with four apiece, while Forsberg managed the only goal.
Forsberg would close out the road trip in Montreal with another goal and scored in four of the five games on the road trip. His season total is now at 18 and his per game average is tied for second-highest of his NHL career at 0.44.
To go back to Askarov’s NHL debut, I thought he showed expected signs of a rookie. He misplayed the puck on an early goal by the Canadiens when he tried to play it up the boards. It turned into an offensive zone giveaway and a Kirby Dach goal to give the Canadiens the lead.
Askarov also showed tons of confidence and opened up the game making some extremely difficult saves. Especially in your NHL debut. I thought he showed a lot of poise despite the defensive breakdowns in front of him.
Another night where the Predators fail to take advantage on the power play despite three chances and a night where goaltending wasn’t the biggest problem. It was scoring and getting outskated.
So overall, a mixed bag from the road trip. Much like this team is always going to give you mixed results and never get too high or too low.
Are they going to hang around that wildcard bubble? Sure. Are they going to convince us anytime soon that they’re a deep playoff team? Not unless Saros has several more 50-plus save wins under his belt. However, I don’t like to ever count out Juice, so we’ll see.
The Nashville Predators return home to Bridgestone Arena on Saturday to take on another Eastern Conference foe, the Buffalo Sabres (20-18-2). They’re the highest-scoring team in the league and boast a top-five power play.