The Nashville Predators, as I’ve been talking about for weeks now, are in the midst of a changing of the guard in net as Juuse Saros continues to assert his dominance.

Regardless of one’s willingness to admit it, Pekka Rinne’s time as the primary starting goaltender for the Preds is coming to an end. He’s 37 years old and, based on his play this season, his age is finally starting to catch up to him. He’s barely been above the .900 save percentage mark for more than a few games this season and his play in net has led to some eye-popping lopsided scores this season.

On the bright side, this is happening simultaneous to (or perhaps in relation to?) Juuse Saros stepping up as one of the best goalies in the league over the last few weeks.

Since January 1st, Juuse Saros ranks 4th among 49 qualifying goalies in even strength save percentage (.941) and 2nd in goals saved above average (11.00). He’s only behind guys like Tuukka Rask and Andrei Vasilevskiy, who are likely Vezina Trophy finalists. Saros has also posted four shutouts this season, which ranks 3rd in the league, and all of which have occurred after January 1st.

Safe to say, Saros has been by far the most effective Nashville Predators goalie in the 2nd half of the season and should be the de facto starter for the Preds moving forward. But let’s not forget that Pekka Rinne’s role as the presumed backup moving forward will be equally as important.

As the Preds prepare for a playoff run, Juuse Saros will be relied on more and more. He’s young, but even young goalies can get worn down by the slog of the late NHL schedule. Saros will need nights off and recovery time as he gets his game ready for the playoffs in April.

Also the Preds have four back-to-backs left on their schedule. Rinne and Saros will share duties during those, and it will be important that each goalie perform well in each, so as to prevent the other from playing on back to back nights.

Saros and Rinne reversing roles

Rinne knows all about how much rest can impact an NHL’s goaltender’s performance in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Twice during the Peter Laviolette era, in 2015 and 2016, Rinne took on quite a heavy workload down the stretch in the regular season. As a result, his performance in the playoffs suffered, collecting a .906 and .909 save percentage in the postseason those two years.

But the following season, in 2016-17, Rinne was well rested down the stretch, thanks to the play of backup Juuse Saros. Saros played in 11 of the Preds’ final 28 games that season, giving Rinne some well deserved nights off in February and March. As a result, Rinne went into the 2017 playoffs with fresh legs and put together a remarkable 22 game run, finishing with a .930 save percentage and a 1.96 goals allowed average.

If all goes as expected, the same thing should happen this season, except with the roles reversed. Juuse Saros, the starting goalie, should get some nights off down the stretch, with the veteran Pekka Rinne picking up the all-important backup duties.

Preds Quote of the Week

“Our slogan right now is embrace the grind and now the city’s kind of going through something like that, where people are grinding and trying to get through. It’s inspiring to us the strength that the city’s showing.”

-Matt Duchene on the city of Nashville’s response in the aftermath of the deadly Tornadoes on March 3rd.

GIF Me That Good Stuff

Filip Forsberg’s first goal in a while was a bit of a lucky bounce, but I am sure he will take it.

Get Them Digits

  • 489 — the number of shots faced by Juuse Saros at even strength since January 1st, 8th most in the league
  • 164 — the number of career goals for Filip Forsberg, finally passing Martin Erat on the all-time Preds’ scoring list. It’s amazing how things can come back around, isn’t it?
  • 63 — the number of points for Roman Josi this season. Not only is this a career high for him, it’s a franchise record for a Preds’ defenseman. With 14 games left, Josi’s going to make that record very hard for anyone else to break in the future.

Let’s Do That Hockey

A week full of road trips and a week full of six o-clock starts!

  • Tuesday, March 10th @ Montreal Canadiens (6:00 PM; FS-TN)
  • Thursday, March 12th @ Toronto Maple Leafs (6:00 PM; FS-TN)
  • Saturday, March 14th @ Columbus Blue Jackets (6:00 PM; FS-TN)
  • Sunday, March 15th @ Minnesota Wild (6:30 PM; NBCSN)

Final Thought

Though the Preds still only have a 42% chance of making the playoffs this season, it might be time to start looking ahead at potential first round opponents.

Yes, I know. Cart before the horse. Counting chickens before they’ve hatched. Spending money before it’s in the bank.

But it can’t hurt, right?

Right now the Preds’ most likely first round opponents according to Sports Club Stats are Colorado (11.7%), Edmonton (10.4%), St. Louis (9.6%), and Vegas (6.8%).

While I have serious reservations about this team’s ability to actually win a playoff series against any of these teams, I do think there are a couple routes that would be better than others.

In particular, I think the Preds’ “path of least resistance” would be earning the top Wild Card spot and heading over to the Pacific bracket. This would give them a first round matchup against likely Edmonton, Vegas, or Vancouver. While these teams are great offensive teams (especially Edmonton, who just dropped eight goals on the Preds), they all have questions on defense and in goal.

The other route is staying in the Central division and taking on defensive juggernauts in St. Louis, Dallas, or Colorado. Based on what we saw the Stars do to the Preds in six games last year, I don’t like the Preds’ chances in a rematch, nor do I like their chances against the defending Cup champs or a dark horse like Colorado.

Sure, travel and time zone changes are an issue when heading West. We saw that take its toll on the 2011, 2012, and 2016 playoff teams. But in the end, playoff series’ are about matchups. To that end, the matchups are more favorable for the Nashville Predators in the Pacific than in the Central.

— Featured image via Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports —