The Nashville Predators are in serious trouble. The defense is an absolute mess, the offense cannot get going, their special teams are inconsistent, and the lineup continues to make little to no sense.

Last night’s 5-1 loss in Seattle is just the latest in a series of ineffective performances at both ends of the ice. The Kraken had a 4-0 lead after the 1st period, thanks to many wide open chances in front of the Nashville net. Then they swarmed the neutral zone with a trap that clogged the middle of the ice, forcing the Preds to dump the puck and fight for the smallest of scoring chances.

It was a carbon copy of many games this year. The 7-4 loss to Edmonton a week ago, the 3-0 shutout by Washington before that, and the two losses to Dallas back in October.

If you were one of the few Preds fans who stayed up to watch the whole game, I feel for you.

But if you did, you might have noticed something that it seems has been a trend for the Preds in these first 13 games.

Juuse Saros struggling early in more ways than one

Perhaps the Preds’ most reliable foundation over the last couple seasons, Juuse Saros is not playing well right now.

In 10 games this season, Saros has a 3-6-1 record with an .892 save percentage and a 3.46 goals allowed average. Those are the headline stats, but digging deeper, it’s even worse than that.

Here’s where Saros ranks among the 64 goalies with at least 100 minutes at 5-on-5 this season (according to Natural Stat Trick):

  • Save percentage: 52nd (.897)
  • Goals save above average: 60th (-4.19)
  • High danger save percentage: 38th (.818)

He’s been one of the worst goalies in the league at 5-on-5, which is truly a shocking development. Saros has been one of the best goalies in that regard over the past two years, ranking 5th in save percentage and 1st in goals saved above average between 2020-21 and 2021-22.

But that’s not all. Saros has also looked particularly bad early in games this year. He’s always been known as a slow starter, especially when looking at his progress throughout a season, but his starts in games this year have been atrocious.

I noticed the troubling trend last night in Seattle, then went back and tracked his season:

Teams are shooting 40% on the first shot of the game on Saros and 30% on the first two shots. The early goals have become a problem, putting the Predators in trouble early, forcing their offense to work harder for goals and narrowing the margin for their defense.

Last night in Seattle, Jordan Eberle put a harmless looking shot on goal after a nice move at the blueline. It was the Kraken’s first shot of the game, resulting in a 1-0 lead for the home team.

If you’ve watched Juuse Saros at all during his seven years, you know he just doesn’t give up goals like this:

Saros tracks the play just fine, he has a good angle to make the save, he can clearly see the puck, he can clearly see Eberle’s stick and shot… yet the puck still goes in.

That’s a bad, bad goal to give up.

Saros issues make the Preds that much worse

Goaltending is the most important facet of an NHL game. If you don’t have quality goaltending, you cannot compete in a hockey game. As I mentioned earlier, it puts much more pressure on your offense and makes your defense a lot more worried about making mistakes.

With poor goaltending, the Predators’ other issues are magnified. For example, the defensive structure is still not in sync. Ryan McDonagh (who is clearly seen whiffing on a poke check in that Eberle goal above) has been a poor fit so far. The Mattias Ekholm switch back to the left side shows promise, but the defensive pairs have not been solidified. Dante Fabbro has been ok; Alex Carried has been below average. Jeremy Lauzon is limited. Roman Josi is relegated to creating offense, which is fine, but he also hasn’t looked like the Norris Trophy finalist he was last year.

Add to this the carousel of forward lineup changes that have hindered offensive chemistry. Filip Forsberg, regardless of his linemates, has been very good. Outside of that, it’s hard to find anything that works on a nightly basis. Sissons, Trenin, Jeannot don’t have the offensive punch they had last year. Ryan Johansen cannot find a shooting winger that sticks on his line. The fourth line is… not productive.

A leaky goaltender is the last thing the Preds need right now, but it seems to be what they have.

Here’s a small bit of good news. In the past, Juuse Saros has righted his early season woes sometime around the 10 game mark:

Having just played game number 10 in Seattle, might we see the “Real Juuse Saros” stand up?

It might be the only thing that can save the Nashville Predators at this point.

— Featured image via Steven Bisig/USA TODAY Sports —