Through seven games, the Nashville Predators are a team with two identities. They have an incredible offense that can take over a game, and they have a not so incredible defense that can lose games.

So far, most of the games have gone like this: the defense puts the team in a hole early in the game, then the offense swoops in to save the day (or at least attempt to). This is an oversimplified way to look at things, but it’s almost like half of the team is outstanding and the other half is abysmal and we’ve seen both halves in almost every game so far.

Interestingly enough, the same can be said about the Predators’ goalie tandem right now.

First, just look at their individual records: Pekka Rinne is 4-0 as the Preds starter, while Juuse Saros is 0-3. Sure, win/loss record is an incomplete way to evaluate a goaltender’s performance, but that tells you a lot.

Digging deeper, the discrepancy between the two starters goes beyond just win/loss record. Right now, Pekka Rinne has the 5th best even strength save percentage (95.1%) in the league among goalies with at least 100 minutes. Juuse Saros comes in at 41st (85.1%), which is 3rd to last in the league.

And it’s not that the defense is playing that much better for Rinne than they are for Saros, though they are playing a little bit better. Expected save percentage tells you what rate you would expect a goalie to stop pucks, based on the shot quality they are seeing. Right now, Rinne’s expected percentage is 94.0%, which isn’t too far from his actual save percentage of 95.1%. Saros’ expected save percentage is 92.3%, which is far above his actual save percentage of 85.1%.

In fact, the difference between Saros’ expected save percentage and his actual save percentage is the 3rd worst differential in the league. Rinne’s is 10th best in the league.

To put it plainly, through seven games, Pekka Rinne has been a top 10 goalie in the league and Juuse Saros has been arguably one of the worst.

Rinne continues to be Preds’ “ace”

Perhaps it’s no surprise to most, but the early results show us one concrete fact: Pekka Rinne is still the Nashville Predators’ ace in net. He’s the presumed starter in net until either an injury or prolonged slump says otherwise.

This is good news for the Predators, who are still paying their franchise best goalie a relatively high salary for most goalies. While Rinne’s $5 million price tag is $2 million cheaper than they’ve been paying him for the previous seven years, it’s still more than most goalies make. According to Spotrac, Rinne is one of only 17 goalies to make north of $5 million this season.

If the Predators are going to make a run for the Stanley Cup this season, they will need Pekka Rinne to be on his game. So far, so good.

No need to panic about Saros

The good news for Preds fans is there’s really no reason to panic about Juuse Saros’ play early on this season. He is still a very good goaltender who can win you games when he emerges from this slump.

He’s had slumps like this before, and he’s shown the ability to bounce back.

In 2017, Saros started 0-3 with an 81.7% save percentage, losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, and New York Islanders. He followed that with a 3-0-1 record in his next four starts with a 95.2% save percentage, beating the Los Angeles Kings, Dallas Stars, and Edmonton Oilers.

In November of 2018, Saros went 0-3 on the road against the San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, and Calgary Flames, putting up only an 81.5% save percentage. He followed that with a four game stretch where he beat the New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, and Montreal Canadiens with a 97.2% save percentage.

Saros can be a bit streaky with his performances, especially early in the season. He can be abysmal one stretch and then dominant the next, with no real explanation as to why. Sometimes it’s just the way hockey works.

Juuse Saros is still the goalie of the future for the Nashville Predators. Since 2016, he ranks 18th in the league in goals saved above average (GSAA), right behind future Hall of Famers Marc-Andre Fleury and Henrik Lundqvist. He’s also 22nd in even strength save percentage during that same time span, right behind perennial Vezina candidate Carey Price. At only 24 years old, he remains one of the best young netminders in the game.

So while Saros hasn’t been great so far for the Preds, lets see how these next few games turn out before we press that panic button.

— Featured image via Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports —