The Nashville Predators’ 2022-23 season is off to a good start after two wins over the San Jose Sharks in Prague, Czechia this week.
After a 4-1 win on Friday, in which Juuse Saros returned from his April injury to make 30 saves, the Preds beat the Sharks 3-2 on Saturday to wrap up the two game sweep. With that, the Preds sit atop the entire NHL with four points (no other teams have played yet) and get their season started off with a bang.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of these first two wins is how many newcomers contributed in the winning effort. David Poile, whose main focus this offseason was re-signing Filip Forsberg, did not make huge waves in free agency this summer, but he did make ripples. Right away, those ripples are making a difference.
Here’s four offseason additions that made a difference at the Global Series.
In what I would argue was the most important addition to the Preds this offseason, Ryan McDonagh has been an instant fit in John Hynes’ system. McDonagh’s cerebral focus on the game from the defensive position, plus his skating and puck skills to be able to make plays at the right time, makes him a natural fit for the “defense-first” mindset that Hynes coaches.
To put it simply: Ryan McDonagh is exactly what this team has been missing on the defensive side of the ice.
Not only does his presence allow the other defenseman to slot in more appropriate positions (Lauzon/Borowiecki share the left side of the bottom pairing; Ekholm plays on his off side, where he is comfortable; Carrier/Fabbro provide balance with very little pressure to be perfect; Josi can still be Josi) but his NHL experience prepared him to step into a top four role in Nashville with almost no growing pains.
#Preds top four on defense (even strength minutes, xGF%)— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) October 7, 2022
McDonagh– 19:13, 68.5%
Ekholm– 18:37, 67.5%
Josi– 17:55, 64.7%
Carrier– 14:22, 58.2%
On Friday, McDonagh played 21:31 minutes, blocked four shots, and got his first assist with Nashville. On Saturday, he played 22:10 minutes, blocked three shots, and had another assist.
On top of that, McDonagh’s underlying analytics are excellent: his on-ice expected goals share is 55.7% through two games, generating 2.05 expected goals and allowing 1.63 expected goals at even strength.
If the first two games are any indication, McDonagh is going to be a force for the Preds all season.
One of the more confusing signings of the offseason, Kevin Lankinen won the backup goaltending job that was assumed to be Connor Ingram’s. While Lankinen was not a very good goalie for Chicago last year, Poile and his staff clearly saw something worth having around.
On Saturday, Lankinen stopped 31 of 33 shots in the Preds’ 3-2 win. One of the goals allowed was off a rebound in front with the Preds killing a penalty. Hard to blame him for that one. The other was a quick strike response after Nino Niederreiter had just tied the game. On that one, it looked like Lankinen just wasn’t ready for the shot and didn’t track the play quickly enough.
But give him full credit for the other 31 saves. He was very confident in the net and made some excellent pad saves late with the game on the line. He stopped all 15 shots faced in the 3rd period with the Sharks bearing down.
Who would have guessed the first goal of the new NHL season would be scored by Kiefer Sherwood?
Certainly not me.
Sherwood was as nondescript an offseason signing for the Preds as you could find. If you recall, he was signed on the same day as Mark Jankowski, Cole Smith, and a few others, right as we were waiting to see what forwards Poile would sign to replace Luke Kunin and Nick Cousins.
Sherwood had limited NHL playing experience (though he had more than the other guys signed that day) and was not a headline move for Poile. But in the opening period of the NHL’s new season, Sherwood made headlines anyway:
Remember the name: Kiefer Sherwood has the first goal of the 22-23 NHL season 😎 pic.twitter.com/wq7xYlbmZG— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) October 7, 2022
It should be noted that Sherwood didn’t do a lot after that goal. In fact, he was bumped from the 2nd line down to the 4th line in the 2nd game, though that was mostly due to Eeli Tolvanen playing so well.
Sherwood will not likely be an everyday player for the Preds this year, but he made a strong case in his favor on Friday.
By far, the headline of the weekend was Nino Niederreiter’s three goals that directly fueled Nashville’s two wins.
His first came in transition off a nice pass from Dante Fabbro, finishing just over James Reimer’s left shoulder:
His second goal came in the 2nd period on Saturday, where he cleaned up a rebound in front. Niederreiter’s vision and timing to advance into the crease at the perfect time was something I pointed out when Poile signed him to a two year deal, and it was on full display in this play:
The Predators are really going to benefit from Niederreiter’s skills as a slot scoring machine. Last year, they relied on hot outside shooting, something that can be streaky and often disappears in the playoffs. With a guy like Niederreiter, the offense can count on a physical, smart forward that knows how to find space in dangerous areas.
Oh and by the way, he can shoot:
That shot is not about power or wrist torque or any special magic at all. It’s about timing and placement. Which, by the way, is also something I mentioned in the article linked above. Niederreieter doesn’t have a howitzer in his arsenal, he has a laser pointer.
It’s hard to say which of these offseason additions will be the most beneficial to the Preds in the long run this season. My money is still on McDonagh being the most impactful.
The good news for David Poile is a lot of his hard work is paying immediate dividends for the Nashville Predators.
— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —