Panic Strikes as Juuse Saros Isn’t Bailing out Nashville Predators Anymore

Nov 11, 2023; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Nashville Predators goaltender Juuse Saros (74) plays the puck during the second period against the Arizona Coyotes at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 11, 2023; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Nashville Predators goaltender Juuse Saros (74) plays the puck during the second period against the Arizona Coyotes at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports /

This isn’t a common feeling for Nashville Predators fans, but goaltending has suddenly become unreliable with Juuse Saros. Maybe it’s just a phase, but it’s still a glaring problem with the team falling to 5-9-0.

The Predators put up five goals on the Arizona Coyotes in the first game of a long stretch at home where they’ll be playing nine of 10, but it wasn’t good enough. Saros never looked comfortable or locked in, and the speedy Coyotes jumped all over him for six goals.

At one point Saros even appeared to lose his footing and fell down to the ice despite no action going on around him. It happens to the best of them, but this horrific comedy of errors didn’t help matters on what was a nightmare outing for Saros against Arizona.

How many times in the past has this franchise lived off elite goaltending and wins in games where the Predators probably should’ve taken defeat, but Saros came up clutch ?For more than just one reason, it’s not happening right now. And that gives all of us a very uneasy feeling.

So where do the Nashville Predators go from here? Can Head Coach Andrew Brunette‘s aggressive offensive philosophy be enough to overcome shaky goaltending? It hasn’t been the case lately.

Is this just a Bad Stretch for Saros or is there More to be Concerned About?

Bluntly speaking, the Nashville Predators are a lottery contender if Saros doesn’t turn things around quickly. I know the expectation is that the Predators will gradually become a more offensively prolific team as the season wears on, but the offense produced plenty for Saros against Arizona and it wasn’t enough to overcome, losing 7-5.

In the past, Saros would dominate the opponent and do everything he could to keep the Predators afloat, only to be let down with no goal support. The Predators sit 21st in goals per game, so Saros could use more goal support as well. There is that.

But Saros has six games already this season where his save percentage was below 90, and two really bad starts which is starts with a save percentage below 85. He had nine of those in 63 starts in 2022-23.

Looking deeper into how this is shaping up to be one of Saros’ worst years in the NHL, he has just five quality starts in 12 games, for a percentage of 41 percent. That’s way down from his career average of 61 percent. Quality starts are calculated as starts where a goalie’s save percentage is above league average or at least better than a 88 save percentage.

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Can Saros shake this off and string together a long stretch of starts where he looks like the Saros that can win a Vezina Trophy? Yes, he can, the Predators are banking on that if they’re going to eventually climb back up in the standings and out of last place in the Central Division.

Much like a great shooter in basketball not being able to throw it into the ocean, all it takes is one game where everything seems to fall for things to get back on track. I feel the same way right now about Saros, but it might take some rest and turning to Lankinen for a bit first.

The most glaring thing I’m seeing with Saros on the eye test is he’s just not seeing the puck as well as I’m used to with him. He’s getting caught out of position and getting stunned with pucks that maybe he’s just not expecting. This happened a couple times against the Arizona Coyotes, including the first goal by Arizona that looked seemingly harmless from way outside the circle:

Saros seriously looked stunned that Michael Carcone took that shot from so far out. We’ve seen Saros snag pucks like that up with his glove countless times like it’s nothing in the past.

The following Coyotes goal to tie it at 2-2 is another instance of Saros just not coming up clutch in a one-on-one situation. We’ve seen Saros erase breakaway attempts from the opposition in the past, but my confidence is the lowest I’ve ever had right now in him stopping shooters in one-on-one situations.

Saros has also struggled in penalty shot situations. In the season opener against Tampa and the third game of the season against Boston, those games were up for grabs for the Predators and Saros couldn’t make the penalty shot save.

Now I’m not going to get lost in the fact that hockey is a team sport, and critical mistakes and missteps by Saros’ teammates didn’t help matter. As great as Evangelista has been in his rookie campaign, a lapse in judgement here on a horrendous line change on the expiring Predators power play.

Saros Hasn’t Been Able to Erase the Mistakes of his Teammates

Aside from that, Saros has made a name for himself in this league by cancelling out poor team play. The elite goalies do that, and Saros just doesn’t look elite at all right now. He’s having his spurts where he looks his normal self, but he isn’t putting together dominant 60-minute performances right now.

Saros now sits at 71st among NHL goalies in Goals Saved Above Expected. He’s in the negative in that category, and behind embattled goalies such as Jack Campbell, Kaapo Kahkanen and Ville Husso.

The Predators’ penalty kill sits in last place in the NHL. A combination of poor play by the skaters, but also bad goaltending from Saros.

So at what point does Brunette start leaning more towards Kevin Lankinen getting a few more starts than planned? If I’m Brunette, I’m without question giving Lankinen the start in the next game against the Anaheim Ducks.

If Lankinen puts out a gem on Tuesday and springboards the Predators to a desperately needed win, then yes, I’m giving Lankinen back-to-back starts and giving Saros a week off to reset.

This by no means indicates that I’m pulling the plug on Saros as the starter. This isn’t a knee jerk reaction, but more of a reset for Saros. Goalies need that sometimes, and a week off could bring a revamped Saros back in the mix after two starts from Lankinen.

And I really hate to bring this up, but if this lingers for another month, then the trade speculations around Saros will get louder.

The outside noise could make things worse. Obviously we hope that’s not the case and Saros finds his dominant game. He needs a game or two to reset, and coaches can see if Lankinen provides more consistency.