Early on the Nashville Predators and their revamped roster were trading wins and lossses and having a hard time finding consistency. They were showing positive signs, but it wasn't resulting in sustained success in the win column.
All of that suddenly changed a month ago when the Predators entered a matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks, which at the time was a battle between last place teams in the division.
The Predators ended their losing streak on that day with a win over the Blackhawks and backup goalie Kevin Lankinen surrendering only two goals on 29 saves. The struggling Juuse Saros would get the next start against the mighty Colorado Avalanche.
Preds are 12-3-0 since Saros Ended his Personal Losing Streak on November 20
This is really where the Predators took off and flipped the script on their current season. And when it appeared the Predators were heading for another loss, albeit in a hard fought effort, some last minute heroics snatched victory from the grips of the shocked Avalanche players.
Much of the focus from that win was on the last minutes goals from Filip Forsberg and Yakov Trenin, but Saros took a step forward in the right direction as well. Wasn't his best game with a .897 save percentage, but a start where he still had to step up to make some vital saves while the Predators pushed for the tying goal.
Since then, Saros has taken only one loss and has nine wins. Seven of those nine wins he has given up two goals or less. Before the Predators started on this winning trend, Saros was tracking as one of the worst starting goalies in the league at Goals Saved Above Expected. If memory serves me correctly, he was outside the top 70 in this department.
Although Saros still has a lot of ground to make up in his climb back to the top, a category where he led all goalies in 2022-23 with 46.7 Goals Saved Above Expected, he is now up to 43rd on the current season with a -0.3 GSA.
Make no mistake about it; the Predators will keep winning on a regular basis if Saros stays hot and gets back to his 2022-23 form. And they have a much better support system for Saros when he does have some off days.
Under John Hynes, an off night for Saros almost always meant the Predators were heading for the loss column. The Predators were 28th in goals per game in the last year of Hynes, and 27th in power play percentage.
It might come as a surprise, but the Predators really haven't surged forward in terms of finishing on their goal scoring chances despite their winning ways the last month. Still middle of the pack in goal scoring and power play despite being top-10 in Expected Goals.
Comparing Hynes' Last Season to Brunette's Current Season with Preds
17.6 % (27th)
21.2 % (15th)
Exp. Goals %
53.04 % (7th)
All of this is to paint the bigger picture of Saros remaining the ultimate x-factor for how far the Predators can go. They will always be just good enough to compete for a playoff spot when Saros is in his regular form, which is one of the best in the world when he's locked in.
As the Predators keep building something under Brunette's system, remember this era is still very much in its infancy, they will evolve into a team that can beat you different ways. They've already shown that in the last couple of weeks with low-scoring wins over Philadelphia and Montreal, followed by a track meet scoring barrage in an overtime win over Carolina.
Saros has always been the constant for the Predators' success, and it's no different under Brunette. The difference is the Predators are more balanced now and not just a team led by great goaltedner play and nothing else. The biggest improvement you see generating offensive scoring chances, but again you want to see that finishing ability get better and closer to a top-10 caliber team.
I suspect that if the Predators keep doing the right things in managing the puck, forechecking hard and pushing the transition game, their goal scoring numbers will go up. If that happens with Saros playing like he is now, then they're going to be a team no one wants to face in the first round.
First year General Manager Barry Trotz wants to win now. He doesn't view this season as a rebuild transition year. I see the rumblings that Saros is a trade commodity for the 2024 deadline, but I just don't see it. This team is just good enough, and improving, that you can't just rip it all down. That would make this past offseason acquiring Ryan O'Reilly and Gustav Nyquist kind of a waste.
That means Saros isn't going anywhere. At least before the 2024 trade deadline. If anything, you're trading Kevin Lankinen and calling up Yaroslav Askarov to fill in the backup duties, then you make a decision on one of them in 2024-25.
Let's not focus on that right now. The Predators are the hottest team in the NHL here in December, with a lot of hockey left.
Saros was the missing puzzle piece in the early going that was costing the team some wins. With him looking more like his normal self, the Predators should keep up their winning ways and stay relevant in the playoff picture.