I’ll admit that previewing the Predators goalies for this season is a really exciting assignment for me. It’s very simple: we have two fantastic Finnish goalies. Because I’m also a fan of the nerdy technical aspects of the game, I love to watch the differences between Pekka’s game and Juuse’s game. Other than the six-ish inch height difference, the Predators have an incredibly solid tandem of goaltenders who bring their own strengths and weaknesses to the ice.
During the starting goalie lineup announcements at Bridgestone, the big Finn Rinne often gets the biggest roar of fan support. However, young Saros has gathered some fan support, especially after some stellar performances in net last season. He was occasionally ranked as a top rookie and has been generally acknowledged as Rinne’s eventual replacement. At only 22-years-old, Juuse Saros is the future of Nashville’s goaltending.
Last season’s playoffs and Cup run showed us that a rested Rinne is a very sharp Rinne. That ridiculous .976 save percentage against Chicago was no fluke. This season, the 34-year-old Rinne will require more rest in order to remain sharp. If I’m Peter Laviolette (I’m not), I would start Saros 30-35 games this season in order to keep Rinne rested and sharp.
Let’s take a closer look.
Pekka Rinne is the face of the Nashville Predators. He’s the big man in net, the most popular interview candidate, and the writer of an amazing Players Tribune article. He is a leader on and off the ice. It’s evident he wants to be in Nashville and wants to win a Cup here. He’s our franchise goalie.
At 6’5”, Rinne is an absolute beast in net, often making incredible “holy crap Pekka” saves like this (this save is even better in Finnish):
However, during the last season’s Cup run, we suffered through some incredibly poor performances by Rinne. Once one puck hit the back of the net, it seemed like they all went in. What does this mean? It means that Rinne is inconsistent, something he’s struggled with for his entire career.
All the blame cannot be placed on Pekka, because sometimes the team plays poorly in front of him. Other times, the puck leaks into the net off Mattias Ekholm. Undeniably, a team playing in front of an inconsistent goaltender will also be inconsistent.
A majority of my in-game heart attacks occur when Rinne leaves the net to retrieve a puck. We saw how useful his puck-handling can be in the Chicago and St. Louis series last season. He has the ability to chip the puck out of the Predators zone and into neutral ice for an offensive rush. Rinne also has a very strong glove hand, snatching pucks out of the air with a vengeance. See also: Monster Block.
Rinne does have a tendency to get incredibly out of position when there is a scramble in front of the net. Last season, we saw Ryan Ellis and Matt Irwin make some crazy plays for the puck in the blue ice while Rinne was sliding around nearby, nowhere near the blue paint. Too often Rinne’s mad scramble can sometimes end up in goals allowed.
I haven’t read an article yet that offers significant criticism for Juuse “Little Bear” Saros. It seems like most Preds fans really want to see more of Saros, and ideally that will transpire over the course of the upcoming season.
Around December 2016, the Predators stopped the “Mazanec down, Saros up” dance and kept Saros with the big club. Many solid outings at the AHL level and some tough games with the Predators showed the coaching staff that Saros was a more reliable backup than Mazanec. Yes, it does appear that Saros is Rinne’s kid brother when they’re next to each other on the ice or in the locker room. An adorable “Beneath the Ice” episode chronicled the relationship between the two goalies.
Saros played in 21 (starting 19) games last season (two in the playoffs), five more than his predecessor Carter Hutton. He went 10-8-3, posting a solid .923 save percentage. He didn’t just start the easy games against lower-ranking teams. Saros carried the Preds through some long road stretches against some tough opponents like Boston, Winnipeg, and New York. I’ve read multiple articles that describe how Saros reads plays like a forward; his excellent positioning and technical movements really show off his skills.
One small note: Juuse’s shootout record sucks, but we’ve only seen a small sample size at the NHL level.
We’ve rained praise on the young Saros around here, and national coverage will soon realize that Nashville has another Top 10 goalie. The NHL Network noted Saros is the #4 goalie for the future. It’s safe to say that I’m excited to see how Little Bear performs this season: how many games he plays, whether teams adjust to his play, and how he handles the powerhouse teams of the Central.
It’s evident that Rinne will be a guiding force for Saros as he continues to shine in the Nashville crease.
The departure of Marek Mazanec to the KHL left the Predators organization with some goaltending holes at the minor league level. With the addition of reliable goalies in Anders Lindback, Matt O’Connor, and Jake Paterson, there is a solid plan in place for the future of Nashville’s goaltending. What the Predators need this season is a rested Rinne, and that means that Saros will have to start (and win) more games this season and shoulder the load. The future of Nashville’s goaltending is certainly going to be led by young Juuse, and his backups will have the opportunity to develop without being rushed to the NHL.