Thanks to a run in with food poisoning, the Nashville Predators were without five of their starters for Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, including goaltender Pekka Rinne and captain Mike Fisher.
It turns out the Predators were just fine without them, thanks in part to their young guns, who helped bring down the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Juuse Saros made his second career start in goal and was nothing short of spectacular. The 21-year-old Finn stopped 34 of the 35 shots he faced and shut out the Penguins over the final 59:08 to get his first NHL win.
“It’s a pretty amazing thing,” Saros said. “Especially coming against Pittsburgh because Fleury was one of my biggest idols growing up. I spent a lot of time watching his highlights from youth, so it’s a great thing.”
Saros’ strong performance is nothing new. When he was called up from Milwaukee, he was first in the AHL in wins (3), fourth in goals-against-average (1.00), and third in save percentage (.964).
“I think its part of growing and his growth process throughout our organization,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “He's off to a terrific start down there. He’s got three one goal-against games down there and he gets another one tonight at this level. (He’s) really bailing us out.”
Added Saros: “I’ve got to give a lot of credit to the guys in front of me. They cleaned up the rebounds very nicely and it was a lot of fun to play behind those guys. They kept the guys out from in front of the net so I could see the puck well, so I’ve got to give a lot of credit to the defense.”
Kevin Fiala finally had the breakout game we’ve all been waiting for. He broke a 1-1 tie early in the second period scoring his first goal since January 14th against Winnipeg. He later added his second goal of the game, increasing the Predators’ lead to three goals and notching his first career multi-goal game.
“I felt great,” Fiala said. “Just 100 percent every shift and it’s awesome that I scored two goals but it was even nicer with the win.”
Through four games Fiala had not shown up on the score sheet despite coming awfully close a few times. However, patience is a virtue, and Fiala was rewarded with a two goal performance.
“I was happy for Kevin because he's been working hard, and sometimes I think as a young player, if you’re not seeing it on paper, and things aren’t going your way, it starts to build a little bit in the confidence area,” Laviolette said. “So he should take a lot of confidence from tonight.
“He played a real strong game, took down some minutes on one of our top lines, and was a big contributor. He was really strong and has been really strong in camp, as I said, but sometimes it’s nice to see the puck go in the back of the net so I’m glad he got to see that tonight.”
Fiala wasn’t the only Predator to score two goals on Saturday; Viktor Arvidsson achieved that feat as well. He got the Predators on the board with a power play goal in the first period and scored his second goal with 0:36 left in the second period as Mike Ribeiro found him crashing the net.
"We got the puck behind them and we played with speed and threw pucks to the net and went to the net," Arvidsson said. “I think that's a big part. We battled and we scored goals.”