Three games into 2023-24 for the Nashville Predators, and with a 1-2-0 record at first glance you may think this team is on another path of missing the playoffs. But as we know, the NHL season is a long grind, and the Predators have actually been right in the mix to win both games they lost.
When the schedule was first announced for the Predators, I had two prevailing thoughts; one being that this team was going to take some time to find their footing, and secondly that these first 10 games were really going to test this roster that’s still getting adapted to each other.
The Predators had the lead early in the third period in the season opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning before a penalty shot goal really shifted momentum against them, and were tied with the Boston Bruins early in the third period before another power play goal burned them.
A wire-to-wire methodical win over the Seattle Kraken is their lone victory so far, with the Edmonton Oilers up next. A team with high hopes for a Stanley Cup and breaking Canada’s drought, but has dropped their first two games.
Here’s my grades for the Nashville Predators at this very early point in 2023-24.
The Revamped Nashville Predators Offensive Attack: B+
You might be a little perplexed by my generous grade of a B+ for a Predators team that has only nine goals through three games, one of them being an empty net. But let’s dive a little deeper here.
The Predators have surpassed 30 shots on goal in each of their three games, and won the Expected Goals total in each of those games as well.
The 3-2 narrow loss to the Bruins on Saturday saw Jeremy Swayman stonewall the Predators with 33 saves and a 1.72 Goals Saved Above Expected. A clear example of a goalie outshining the opponent.
Even the win over the Kraken saw Philipp Grubauer played extremely well in net with an enormous 2.48 Goals Saved Above Expected.
This is telling you that the Predators are testing the opposition, and falling victim to some stellar goaltending on the other side. They overcame against the Kraken thanks to strong team defense and a shutout from Juuse Saros, but the Bruins were just too much to handle.
If the Predators keep up this formula of 30-plus shots on net and outperforming the opponent in Expected Goals For, their luck will turn around against more average goaltending and start piling on more wins.
Colton Sissons is blazing right out of the gate with three goals, including two against the Bruins. Already one quarter of the way to his 2022-23 goal total of 12, and his career high in a season is 15 set in 2018-19.
Predators Defense Has Been a Mixed Bag: B-
Not quite as generous as their offensive grade, but still slightly above average for the Predators defense. Again, the Predators held the Bruins to minimal scoring chances and just 31 shots on goal. A power play goal by James van Riemsdyk after a roughing penalty from Jeremy Lauzon was the difference maker on the scoreboard.
This is why I have Lauzon as the odd man out among all of Nashville’s defensive starters. Time and time again he takes costly penalties late in games. And you can say sometimes he’s the victim of a bad call or a “soft” call, but he’s always the usual suspect.
When the Predators are at even strength hockey, their defensive structure has been pretty decent. Not spectacular, but certainly good enough to help Saros and provide time for the offense to score some goals before falling into comeback mode.
As much as Luke Schenn hasn’t looked particularly great in the early goings of his Nashville Predators career, once he is ready to be inserted back into the lineup, Lauzon has to come out.
Dante Fabbro, on the other hand, has looked surprisingly sharp playing with Roman Josi on the top defensive pair in over 20 minutes of time on ice together. I’m not against keeping that pairing together and giving Fabbro a long-term shot to hold down that role.
Goaltending has been Good Enough, Could Be Better: B
Another above average grade for the Predators with Saros through his first three starts. A 23-save shutout against the Kraken, and a Goals Saved Above Expected of 1.7 in his three starts.
Saros has also posted a .920 save percentage while surrendering two penalty shot goals. Unheard of to happen in two of the first three games of the season. At least in my recollection.
I’m in no way worried about Saros moving forward, other than pondering when Kevin Lankinen will make his season debut. Maybe against the San Jose Sharks in Game No.6 of 2023-24?
Now with that, I always believe Saros can kick it up another gear because that’s how much respect and high regard I have for him as one of the world’s best at his position. Let’s see what he can put out there if he gets the next start against the Oilers and Connor McDavid on Tuesday.
Special Teams is a Work in Progress: C-
The Predators are 1-for-14 through the first three games of the season, and have been blanked over the last two games in 10 chances. A back breaker against the Bruins, going 0-for-7 on 14 penalty minutes from Boston, including three minor penalties in the opening period.
We have to show patience right now with this unit, but still be somewhat alarmed at the notion of how long this will take to start finishing on these chances. That will be the difference between falling in a deep hole in the standings, or pulling out some upsets over the upcoming challenging opponents like the Oilers and Rangers.
Thomas Novak has the lone Predators power play goal in 2023-24, coming against the Lightning. Really need Filip Forsberg, Ryan O’Reilly and Josi to really get this Predators power play in a spot where they’re actually finishing.
Forsberg and Josi have been held without a goal so far, while the younger trio of Philip Tomasino, Luke Evangelista and Cody Glass have one point combined. Definitely need more from them in the upcoming games.
Pretty passing and setting up in the zone is nice and all, but you have to finish. Cannot leave precious scoring chances on the board in the upcoming matchups against the Oilers, Rangers and Maple Leafs. Three opponents where the Predators will be underdogs.
On the other hand, the Predators penalty kill has suffered as well. Four power play goals against on 12 chances for the opponent. Almost 20 minutes of ice time shorthanded through three games. Really hampers your fast paced offense when you’re killing penalties.
Overall consensus from me is two close losses, clean up the mistakes and keep getting better. It’s very early and we’ve seen a lot of positive signs. They can keep building off these first three games and be fine.