Nashville Predators: Examining Juuse Saros’ Sluggish Starts

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 28: Juuse Saros #74 of the Nashville Predators tends goal against the Boston Bruins during the third period at the TD Garden on March 28, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Predators won 2-1. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 28: Juuse Saros #74 of the Nashville Predators tends goal against the Boston Bruins during the third period at the TD Garden on March 28, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Predators won 2-1. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images) /

The Nashville Predators have relied heavily on outstanding goaltending in recent years as goal scoring has been a struggle. As of late that goaltender has been the Finnish netminder, Juuse Saros.

Beginning in 2019-20, the Nashville Predators shifted away from Pekka Rinne and giving Saros more games as they knew that the best goaltender in the history of their organization was closing in on hanging up the pads for good.

Saros has been a phenomenal replacement for the best Finnish goaltender in NHL history, however, he often finds himself in a slump the first ten games of the season.

If the Predators are going to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2024, which they have the pieces in place to do so, then Saros will have to avoid  sluggish start.

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Lackluster Record by Saros

Looking back to the 2019-2020 season, the first ten games of each season have been pretty rough. In 40 games, first ten for each of the past four seasons, Saros has posted a 12-20-3 record.

Now I know that only adds up to 35 games. During the 2019-2020 season, three of Saros’ first 10 games played were when he took the net from Rinne. Then again during the 2020-21 season, Rinne relieved Saros after Saros struggled, allowing five goals on 24 shots in one game.

The Predators came from behind to win this game and Rinne was credited with that win.

A week and a half later, the roles were reversed, Saros replaced Rinne, the Predators were unable to make a comeback and Rinne took the loss on that night. These five games make up the missing five from Saros’ win-loss-overtime loss statistics.

So, that covers the record for Saros’ first 10 starts of each of the last four seasons. Now let’s break it down a little more.

Saros Goalie Statistics

The main statistics that people look when it comes to netminders in the NHL are Goals Against Average (GAA), Goals Against, Save Percentage, and their overall record. I have already covered Saros’ overall record, and it isn’t pretty.

Saros gave up three or more goals in four of his first five starts to open 2022-23, with the Predators going 1-3-1 in those games.

Looking at his GAA, Saros has been average in this area to start the season. Having a 2.83 GAA is not terrible, but when over the past four seasons his GAA is a 2.61, that is a pretty significant difference.

Saros has allowed 113 goals in his first ten games combined over the past four seasons. Once you count in the number of shots he has faced over that same time, he has posted a .897 save percentage.

Considering Saros has not finished a season with lower than an overall .914 save percentage, not counting the 2015-2016 season where he played one game, that is huge. Saros and the Predators need to find a way to bring that save percentage up at the beginning of the season.

Now granted, the Predators have not helped Saros out much in the way of scoring goals either, however, it is clear that he struggles to start the season and puts the Predators in a hole that they have to climb out of year after year in an attempt to make the Playoffs.

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Looking Ahead to the 2023-24 Season

When we look at the Nashville Predators first ten games of the 2023-24 season, the Predators have a split schedule with five home games and five away games.

Saros has a little bit better record at home to start the season posting an 8-10-1 record at home and 4-10-2 on the road to start each of the last four seasons.

To add even more to the fact that Saros typically has a slow start, seven of the Nashville Predators first ten games are against teams that finished higher than them in the standings during the 2022-23 NHL Season.

Coming right out of the gate playing against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Predators then face the Seattle Kraken, Boston Bruins, and Edmonton Oilers to start the season. Four high scoring teams all in the first week of the NHL season is not a formula for success for an organization that has sluggish starts and goaltending.

There is no doubt in my mind that Juuse Saros is one of the best goaltenders in the world right now. He needs to show that, and he doesn’t need to wait until November or December to start showcasing his abilities.

In order to make sure that the Predators do not start the season off in the hole, they need to get Saros as many reps during Training Camp and the Preseason as they can. Let him get back to game form, tracking the puck, and using his lateral movements so he is ready when the puck drops against the Tampa Bay Lightning on October 10th to start the 2023-24 NHL Season.

If Saros can find a way to right the ship at the beginning of the season, there is no doubt that come seasons end, the Nashville Predators will be in the Playoffs, and Saros will once again be a Vezina Trophy Candidate.