A little sweet revenge from the season opening loss in Tampa, the Nashville Predators went out and surgically dismantled the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday to the tune of a 5-1 final score.
It's another night of the Predators spreading out the wealth. Five different goal scorers, with Ryan McDonagh scoring his fisrt of the season, and against his former team so even better. Also goals from Juuso Parssinen (5), Filip Forsberg (14), Roman Josi (6), and an empty netter for Yakov Trenin (6).
A major key to the game was shutting down the NHL's leading scorer, Nikita Kucherov, who had 44 points 26 games and doing most of his damage on Tampa Bay's top tier power play.
Not only did the Predators hold the Lightning to 0-for-4 on the power play, but Kucherov was held pointless for just the sixth game this season. More on that later.
Ultimately this win comes down to one team excelling on special teams, and the other not so much. Usually when you hear that you would assume this favored the Lightning, but the Predators flipped the script in this rematch.
Let's also not forget the Predators held a 2-1 lead in the third period before special teams doomed them in the first matchup in Tampa to open 2023-24.
Three Standouts from Preds Win over Tampa
Austin Watson Ends This Game in Dirty Fashion
The win didn't come easy in the physicality department. The Lightning play a rugged game and didn't let up even when the score was far out of reach in the third period.
Things ended in very ugly fashion when former Predators brawler Austin Watson unleased a slapshot near mid-ice directly at Jeremy Lauzon as the clock was expiring. Lauzon was seen visibly in pain and frustrated while the victory song at Bridgestone Arena was cranking.
Things got heated between the benches, and even in the background you could see Juuse Saros throw up his hands almost in disbelief when he saw the slapshot from Watson.
Frustration is part of the game and Watson probably let his emotions get the best of him after his team was just ran out of the building. It's one thing to lay out a hard hit that's borderline, but blatantly blasting a slapshot nearly 100 MPH at a defenseless player with no hopes of scoring a goal is just downright dirty.
Watson also got into a fight with Cole Smith earlier in the game in a bout that saw both players throw some haymakers, but Watson dealing the final blow.
Safe to say Watson isn't getting any Christmas cards from the Predators bench this year? Watson is 2nd in the NHL in penalty minutes with 60.
""I did not like that at all. There's no place in hockey for that""- HC Andrew Brunette, Via B/R Open Ice
Ryan McDonagh Reminds Lightning Fans Why they Should Still Miss Him
What a game it was from McDonagh against his former team that he was traded from to the Predators in July 2022 for Philippe Myers and Grant Mismash. A salary cap dump for the cash strapped Lightning at the time.
McDonagh as the Alternate Captain for the Predators has become a stabilizing force for the defense. Whenever he misses a game, it's brutally apparent how much this team needs him out there.
The nifty backhand goal from McDonagh to give the Predators the coveted two-goal lead was something to behold. You don't see goals scored that way much because usually they get blocked and it's really difficult to get enough force behind the shot to beat a goaltender. Credit to McDonagh for seeing an open net and the goalie down and out to stop this puck.
McDonagh also added an assist on Parssinen's goal to tie things up at 1-1. This was on the power play with McDonagh playing the quarterback role and feeding the puck into traffic. Another savvy play by the veteran.
With 19 games played, McDonagh is already at nine points and almost halfway to his 20-point total from his first season with the Predators. His career high is 46 points with the Lightning in 2018-19,
Brace Yourself NHL, Saros is Getting Back into Vezina Form
We've been patiently and nervously waiting for Saros to shake off the early season rust and remind the NHL world that he's still one of the best. He hasn't been anywhere close to his normal self, but in recent games he's gradually looking more comfortable.
Saros has won sevn of his last eight starts, with 30-plus save performances in three of those wins. He did get chased out of the game in the one loss in that stretch, giving up four goals on 15 shots against the Wild.
What I'm seeing from Saros that is a stark contrast from when he was struggling early on is he's seeing the puck better in crunch time situations. The Lightning through some barrages at him several times, and he was in perfect position to make the save.
Saros' biggest strength that has made him so successful in his NHL career is his lateral movement and quickness to adjust in the crease. He's not the protypical large goalie, so he has to use his flexibility and quickness to his advantage. I saw that in this game where he makes 32 saves.
This brings me back to Kucherov and being held pointless. You saw a couple times where Kucherov was in his prime location in the faceoff circle waiting for that one-timer on Tampa's power play. In one instance he tried to sneak a puck past Saros' pad, but Saros made the fast adjustment to shut the door and seal the post.
All Kucherov could do was go back to the bench in disgust and look up at the replay. You could tell he knew his team was up against a beast in net on this particular night.
Saros has had trouble finishing in the positive on his Goals Saved Above Expected, even in some of his wins. Not so against the Lightning in this one. He finishes with a 1.17 GSA, and in six of his last seven wins he's held the opponent to two goals or less.
With 11 wins now in 2023-24, Saros has gotten his GAA back down below three goals per game and his save percentage at .904.
Been saying this for awhile now; if the Nashville Predators suddenly get a Vezina Trophy type of stretch from Saros to go along with their improving offensive attack, teams are going to have a menacing time handling that one-two punch.
The Predators are now 14-12-0 on the season and one of the NHL's hottest teams. They're tied with the Coyotes in the Central Division with 28 points, and just six points behind the 1st place Avalanche, who the Predators also have a head-to-head win against.