The Nashville Predators have made a living off of finding elite tier NHL goaltenders, and have undoubtedly found another in Juuse Saros. Like his protege, Pekka Rinne, he has saved the Predators from many opposing onslaughts and nearly carried the team down the final stretch of the 2020-2021 regular season.
But as happens to every player, there comes a point in the season where you are just not 100 percent, and it looks like that time has come for Saros. It has not been good for him for much of March, as he has given up three or more goals in six of his past seven starts, including a grand total of 28 in that span.
Granted, most of the goals he has given up have not really been his fault, but he is still whiffing on many pucks he would normally save. Something is clearly not right with the young goaltender, and we have to wonder if he is going cold at the wrong time.
Let’s state the obvious — yes, the Predators desperately need Saros to be better than the way he has played most recently. Look at how vital he was to the team last season, and for that matter, look at how all playoff teams do when their goaltenders are not performing at an elite level.
Do not take this as an overreaction, it is not enough to say that Saros has underperformed or that we generally expect better from him. All this is saying is that he has to be sharper than he has been in the past few games, but for that to happen, he is going to need some help.
Make no mistake, the net-front defence for the Predators has not been good as of late, especially on the third pair. Injuries and ineffectiveness have turned the bottom pairing into a revolving door in the month of March, as well as the mind-boggling decision to play Ben Harpur even at all, let alone most games in this awful stretch.
Matt Benning‘s return is a plus, as well as the upgrade of Jeremy Davies over Harpur, but they still have to be better. They were not in Sunday’s game against the Flyers, as careless turnovers and defensive lapses led to four goals. Keep in mind that the Flyers barely got chances in that game, but the ones they got turned into goals or prime chances because the Predators were napping.
If Saros is to get back to the level we know him to be, the first piece is going to have to be the defence getting its act together. There have been a lot of moving parts lately, but it is clear that they need to settle down and get locked in first and foremost. Hopefully, the third period of the most recent Flyers game can reignite some confidence moving forward.
But then again, Saros cannot just be good in these games, he has to be outstanding. Many pucks that go by him are not exactly on him, but we know he can make the saves because we have seen him do it, and everything we know he CAN save he actually has to.
Defence and goaltending go hand-in-hand in hockey, there is no doubt, and ultimately, everyone is responsible for their own roles on the team. Saros is no different and needs to step up his recent play, but it will not completely happen unless he is given the chance to do so.
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