Last year, in his rookie season, Juuse Saros flourished in the first six games of the season. It was one of the best starts in NHL history for a rookie goaltender and it was incredible to watch.
But Saros’s first six games of this season were anything but incredible. His play bounced between average and awful, perhaps not coincidentally as the rest of the team struggled to regain its defensive identity from the previous playoff run (something they may or may not have ever found).
The warm feelings we all had about the debut of Saros in 2016-17 were perhaps now clouded with doubts. Was his rookie season a fluke? Have teams already figured him out? Is he maybe not getting enough starts? Does he need more work?
Turns out the answer to that last question was “yes” and so the Preds obliged by sending him to Milwaukee. A few times.
Saros spent four different stints in Milwaukee this year, mostly around off-dates and sure-fire Rinne starts.
- November 16th - November 20th
- November 30th - December 3rd
- December 8th - December 11th
- January 10th - January 15th
This not only allowed Pekka Rinne to slowly build his Vezina-worthy campaign, but allowed Saros to work nine more starts into his professional hockey season. He didn’t fare all that well— his 3-5-0 record and .909 save percentage were a better reflection of the Admirals as a whole rather than a reflection of how Saros played— but he got the extra work he needed. And it seems to have worked.
Following his final trip to Milwaukee in mid-January, Saros played 15 more games for the Predators and his numbers looked a lot more familiar.
As we all know, Saros is the goalie of the future for this team. But it won’t happen overnight. And when you have a goalie having a season that Rinne had, you don’t need all that much from your backup.
But the Preds got a lot more than that from their backup. Saros was excellent this season.
Among goalies with at least 1000 minutes at even strength (a total of 52 players), Saros finished 11th in save percentage (.928), 9th in goals saved above average (10.12), and 8th in high danger save percentage (.839).
If not for a few imperfect performances down the stretch, the Predators would have been a lock for the Jennings Trophy, which goes to the team (and subsequently the goalies with at least 25 starts) with the fewest goals allowed. That would have been incredible, but unfortunately not in the cards this year.
Saros finished with three shutouts this, giving him four shutouts in his NHL career. The first shutout of this season was his best— a 46 save shutout effort in Edmonton. In fact, it was the best individual effort in a shutout in Preds history.
Most saves in a shutout, @PredsNHL history:— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) December 15, 2017
46 – Juuse Saros on Dec. 14, 2017 at EDM
43 – Dan Ellis on March 28, 2008 at CBJ
42 – Chris Mason on Nov. 11, 2006 vs. COL#NHLStats #NSHvsEDM pic.twitter.com/XqVgLwOfRd
He was excellent in this one, but there really wasn’t one particular save that stands out. He had a nice reaction on a deflection in front, plus a few strong saves with his blocker, but overall he was just on top of everything. Solid positioning and great rebound control.
(Pictured above: Saros laughing at a joke. Unpictured: bunnies hopping in a meadow, deer lapping up water in a creek, and butterflies dancing among the flowers.)
October 28th against the Islanders wasn’t a fun evening for Saros. He allowed 6 goals on only 23 shots, underlining his less than stellar start to the season.
When you really look at it, he was hung out to dry for most of the night. Three of the goals came on the power play and three of the goals came from excellent shooter John Tavares, plus shots were coming from in tight all night. The defense, on this particular night, was putrid.
It led to a lousy 6-2 loss on home ice.
Saros will have games like this. The defense will have games like this. Thankfully it happened in October, where the stage is considerably smaller.
Easy grade here. Saros had an excellent season.
Now the Preds need to address his RFA status, which could lead to a bridge contract. Don’t worry, he ain’t going anywhere. It’s not a matter of if with Saros, it’s a matter of how much and how long.