It took their fifth preseason outing of the 2023 slate, but the Nashville Predators finally showcased what a locked in Andrew Brunette system can look like.
Against a lot of prospects and players on tryouts for the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night, the Predators were able to take full advantage. But not before coming out of the gate a little sluggish.
The Predators were able to pile on the shots, registering 39 shots on goal and pushing Carolina’s Antti Raanta to surrender five goals on 26 shots before being relieved. Raanta had a really strong 2022-23 campaign for the Hurricanes with a 2.23 GAA and winning 19 of his 26 starts.
It was the first win of the 2023 preseason for the Nashville Predators. They were the only team in the NHL that had yet to taste victory this preseason. They did it with most of their projected starting lineup as the Predators have cut down most of their roster.
Here’s your three takeaways from the 5-1 win for the Nashville Predators.
1. O’Reilly Stuffs the Stat Sheet
Ryan O’Reilly really looked the part of a top line center in this one, having three assists and scoring his first goal in a Predators uniform. It knotted the score at 1-1 off a deflection, with Jeremy Lauzon and Juuso Parssinen getting the assists.
The Predators are hoping to get outstanding value out of O’Reilly’s $4.5M per year deal as a top line center that has always eluted this organization. A four-point night, regardless of who you’re up against, is a very solid night.
From Hockey Stat Card, O’Reilly had the most dominant night on the Predators, mostly due to his offensive production.
O’Reilly also had the primary assist on Filip Forsberg‘s first goal of the preseason. That was highlighted in my matchup preview and what I was hoping to see in the final two preseason games against the Hurricanes.
Also important to remember that O’Reilly is going to be counted on heavily for his two-way game and puck possession traits. He performed well in the faceoff circle last night, which is usually the case, and looked very comfortable out there.
Fagemo Wastes No Time Making an Impression
Something else I highlighted in what I wanted to see in the final preseason games was Samuel Fagemo not only scoring, but quickly adapting to the Predators offensive system.
Fagemo did that by tallying four shots on goal and getting a goal. Brunette’s style of offense he wants the Predators running seems to be a perfect fit for Fagemo’s skillset, making this waiver claim look really smart on the part of the front office and General Manager Barry Trotz.
Now the question becomes, does Fagemo make it into the starting lineup on opening night? I would have to say he has an inside track after his performance on Thursday night, and we should see him again in the preseason finale on Friday against much stiffer competition for Carolina.
If Fagemo does crack the starting lineup for the regular season, where to place him is a whole other debate. Somewhere in the bottom six most likely, but whose spot he takes is up in the air.
Saros Tested Early, Looks to be Locked in for Regular Season Opener in Tampa
Really liked what Juuse Saros displayed in what is probably his last action of the preseason. The Hurricanes, with a lot of younger players playing and trying earn their way onto the NHL roster, pushed the Predators defensive front in the opening period.
The Hurricanes put up 22 shots on Saros in the first period. Saros did crack early, giving up a goal to Ryan Suzuki just 3:37 in. After that, he settled in and didn’t let the game tailspin out of control. The mark of a great goaltender.
Credit to Suzuki for the goal on the wrister to beat Saros. The former 28th overall pick by Carolina in 2019 has yet to make his NHL debut, with three seasons in the AHL.
There is much speculation on how Brunette will manage Saros differently than former Head Coach John Hynes did. Will he push Saros well above 60 starts like Hynes did, or will there be more entrusted into Kevin Lankinen as a quality backup? We shall see.
The Predators lineup for the preseason finale hasn’t been announced yet as of this writing, but I would expect either Lankinen or Yaroslav Askarov to get the start and give Saros the rest with the regular season barreling down on us in just a few days.
Other Games Notes from Nashville Predators 5-1 Win over Hurricanes
The increased comfortability in Brunette’s system was very clear in this one. It was refreshing to see, and the team played with a smoothness and flow we hadn’t quite seen in the first four preseason games.
Brunette has to be very pleased with the gradual progress this team has shown. The expectations was never that this team was just going to magically grasp everything at once, but showing improvement and increased knowledge to make the right decisions was definitely important.
Drawing six power play opportunities really stands out. While the Predators only connected on one of those for a goal, coming from Forsberg, seeing the increased pace push the Hurricanes into committing penalties is a byproduct of this up tempo style of offense.
On the flip side, the penalty kill blanked the Hurricanes power play on four attempts. While it’s something you like to see, I caution on drawing too much out of it with Carolina not playing Sebastian Aho, Seth Jarvis, Michael Bunting, Martin Necas or Brent Burns.
Now perhaps the most difficult test of the preseason faces them on Friday night with the Predators traveling to Carolina’s home ice for one more chance to work out the kinks and get ready for the Tampa Bay Lightning on October 10.
The Hurricanes are treating this like a dress rehearsal, so expect them to come full force and treat this like they’re going for two points in the regular season standings. Nashville needs to avoid costly turnovers in the zone and limit Carolina power plays.
Finally, we’ll see how this new Nashville offense stacks up against another foe who also loves to push the pace. Can they keep up?