Nashville Predators Need to Not Rely on Juuse Saros as Much in 2023-24

Apr 3, 2023; Dallas, Texas, USA; Nashville Predators goaltender Juuse Saros (74) faces the Dallas Stars attack during the second period at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 3, 2023; Dallas, Texas, USA; Nashville Predators goaltender Juuse Saros (74) faces the Dallas Stars attack during the second period at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

The Nashville Predators have always been blessed with two things: a solid blue line and outstanding goaltending. From Tomas Vokoun to Mike Dunham to Pekka Rinne and now Juuse Saros the goalies dressed in Predators sweaters have been elite.

Looking back, there has not been a goaltender in Predators history that has played 75 or more games with the team that has a save percentage below .910 or a goals against average of worse than 2.74.

Those are both pretty incredible statistics. But when is enough enough when it comes to riding a hot goaltender?

The past two seasons have all been Juuse Saros. Luckily during the 2022-23 season the Finnish netminder was able to find some relief having Kevin Lankinen as his back up.

2021-22 Juuse Saros Season

The 2021-22 Season is when Saros officially took the reins from his Finnish goaltending partner and Nashville Predators legend, Pekka Rinne. That season Saros started 67 games followed by Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck with 66 starts, making him one of five NHL goalies with 60 or more starts.

Spanning over the last two seasons Saros is tied with Hellebuyck for the most starts in the NHL with 130, and second-most behind Hellebuyck over the last three seasons with 165 starts.

It goes without saying that the reason the Predators ride the Saros wave so much is because of how good he is. Posting a .918 save percentage and 2.64 goals against average while facing 2,107 shots is absolutely remarkable.

Compare that with a 20.7 goals saved above expected and he is the reason that the Predators had a chance to win most nights.

It didn’t help Saros any that the Predators were reliant on David Rittich as his backup. Rittich played in 17 games, had a 3.57 goals against average, and an abysmal .887 save percentage.

The wear and tear of playing Saros 3,931 minutes finally caught up to the Predators on April 26, 2021 against the Calgary Flames when Saros made a move in the crease, felt a pop in his ankle, and limped off the ice and down the tunnel, ultimately ending his season.

The Predators made the playoffs and in return had to rely on Rittich and Connor Ingram in a series against the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Colorado Avalanche. The Predators were outscored in this series 21-9.

Saros received a nomination for the Vezina Trophy this season and was voted to the All-Star team for his outstanding performance.

2022-23 “The Juice is Loose”

One season removed from appearing in 67 games, Saros got the start in 63 games and played in 64 during the 2022-23 campaign.

Once again, doing what Saros does, he posted a .919 save percentage and 2.69 goals against average. He also led the league in goals saved above expected with an astounding 46.7 GSAE.

Being able to have more confidence in the backup goaltender is one the main thing that led to Saros playing less games and therefore having less time on ice.

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Saros and Hellebuyck led the league in games played by goalies again with 64 games each, which was a much more respectable number as there were seven goaltenders that played in 60 or more games.

Although the Predators missed the playoffs this season, it definitely was not due to lack of effort in the crease every night by the Finnish phenom. Ranking 27th in goals for is what led to the Predators ultimate demise and contributed to them missing the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.

Looking Ahead for Juuse Saros

Now, with Andrew Brunette taking over as the bench boss for the Predators, the question arises… will he rely heavily on Saros just like the previous coaching staff led by John Hynes did?

I would like to see the answer to this question be no. While Saros is one of the best goaltenders in the league, and there is no question about that, you have to think long term and protect him.

Playing Saros as much as he has been played the past couple seasons opens the door for much more injury possibility and potentially a shorter career.

When you have a backup like Lankinen and a goalie in the Predators pipeline in Yaroslav Askarov, there is no reason to play Saros more than 55-60 games this season. Now granted, Lankinen could have a bad streak in which you would rely on Saros more and that would change his numbers but, if he plays how he did last season, there is no reason to not rely on him more heavily.

I would like to see the split be something around the area of Saros – 58 games, Lankinen at 15 to 20 games, and get Askarov some needed experience with the remaining four to nine games.

A lot of this depends on the playoff picture throughout the season as well. If the Predators are in the hunt for the playoffs then they would rely more on experienced goaltenders, however, if they find themselves outside the playoffs at the All-Star break, why not rest your elite goaltender and let the backup of the future get some more games in?

Only time will tell what Coach Brunette has in store for Saros. All I can say is I hope come mid to late April, the Predators are playoff bound and that Saros is rested and ready to go.

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