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Nashville Predators 0, Florida Panthers 2: Saros stellar in Preds debacle

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Yikes.

NHL: Nashville Predators at Florida Panthers Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The Nashville Predators faced off against the Florida Panthers in a weekend rematch after a string of games that had been unsatisfactory to both teams—chippy play, embarrassing losses, and more.

Juuse Saros started his second consecutive game since returning from IR, and looked sharp early. He needed to, as the Predators struggled to get anything going during the first long stretch, while the Panthers did not share that problem. About six and a half minutes in, Ben Harpur boarded Owen Tippett, and after a long hesitation the referee, who’d been looking right at the play, actually called it. Especially after the way some of the earlier Preds-Panthers games this season have gone, this is the kind of refereeing I do like to see. Hopefully they call it both ways.

There were a few scares on the penalty kill, but the Predators escaped unscathed. Alexandre Carrier and Colton Sissons managed the final clear just as Harpur came out of the box, but despite getting the puck Harpur was not able to convert. The Panthers came right back on the attack, pressuring hard. Halfway through the period, Saros had made fourteen saves to Panthers goalie Chris Driedger’s four, which made Eeli Tolvanen’s going down in pain after blocking a shot at least a good-hearted thought. (If you’re flinching in terror, I’ll tell you now that Tolvanen did return.)

Mathieu Olivier and Radko Gudas then got into a scuffle. The initial contact was Gudas’s, but he declined to participate in the ensuing fisticuffs, which resulted in Olivier getting penalized with what somehow turned out to be a double minor for roughing. I never thought I’d be saying that Radko Gudas’s ego was writing checks his body couldn’t cash, but here we are.

As the Panthers’ power plays continued, so did their 80-SOG pace. The Preds did manage to find the offensive zone while killing the second of the minors on Olivier, but only briefly and again without forcing Driedger to make a save. The penalty killers were on the ice, and Ryan Johansen made a few plays, but most of the penalty killing was done by Juuse Saros.

Almost eighteen minutes into the period, the Preds did finally get their fifth shot on goal, and less than a minute later Aleksander Barkov cross-checked Dante Fabbro in the mouth and the Predators got a power play of their own. The Panthers had the first good chance of the Preds’ power play, though the Preds did manage to get two additional shots on goal during the portion of the power play that came before intermission.

Once again, the Panthers got some chances on the Preds’ power play, and the skater advantage expired with no change in score. The game also had no change in tone, as the Panthers put three more shots on Saros over the first two and a half minutes of the second period, compared to the one the Predators managed to get on Driedger.

At intermission, Chris Mason and Terry Crisp discussed the first period from an ex-goalie vs. ex-coach perspective, with Mason geeking out over Saros’s performance and Crisp irate at the skaters. I’m with Crispy.

Driedger ended up sliding completely out of the net, with a little help from a crashing Filip Forsberg, to make his ninth save of the game. The Preds got their tenth shot less than halfway through the game as a whole, and then actually their eleventh—a Cousins shot off a Haula pass that had Driedger making a very entertainingly athletic save—not long after, while Saros remained on pace to see 60+ shots in regulation.

With 10:45 remaining in the second, Barkov scored on a perfectly-placed shot after Yakov Trenin knocked Saros off his feet. Saros had, at that point, already saved the first 28. With the Ben Scrivens-style 59-save shutout off the table, the Predators were going to have to actually score at least one goal in order to win.

The mood of the game slackened palpably after that first goal, with play getting looser but the Panthers actually going multiple consecutive minutes without getting another shot on Saros. Still, they had their chances, including an Anthony Duclair breakaway that Jeremy Davies didn’t quite manage to stop but Saros did; Duclair has really been noticeable for the Panthers, in a positive way, today. Shortly after that, Viktor Arvidsson lost the puck in the offensive zone—yes! the Preds got the puck into the offensive zone!—leading to another Panthers onslaught.

Another scuffle broke out by the benches between Duclair and Cousins, with some audience participation from their teammates, resulting in a 4v4 while both players sat for roughing. The Panthers took advantage of the open ice the same way they had at 5v5, 5v4, and 4v5, setting up in the Predators’ zone and eventually drawing a penalty. I’m not even sure there’s any visible difference between the Panthers’ play before they got the extra skater on or after, but sure. Fine. Why not.

With seven seconds left in the 4v4, Saros made a spectacular save on Jonathan Huberdeau and Alexandre Carrier headed to the box so the Panthers’ next power play could start. Carrier had been looking pretty good this game (and playing pretty good hockey), relatively speaking, so his putting the Preds shorthanded again was frustrating. Still, halfway through the Panthers’ power play, the period ended and the Preds escaped to intermission down by only one goal.

The Predators were able to kill off the remainder of the penalty, but they continued to be stymied at every opportunity by the Panthers’ defense. Score effects were kicking in to even out the shot count, but not the feel of the game.

About halfway through the period, Huberdeau took an accidental high-sticking penalty and the Predators got an opportunity on the power play. Barkov had a great shorthanded chance, and moments after that Erik Haula somehow took another penalty in a netfront scuffle. Thanks to some more work from Saros, the Predators were able to kill off that penalty as well.

With 3:45 remaining, Duclair took a penalty and the Preds got a chance on the power play. They didn’t score, and inexplicably opted to pull Saros under the mistaken impression that the skaters were capable of doing anything with a man advantage. Duclair, back out of the box, scored the empty-net goal with seconds left in regulation.

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Juuse Saros
  2. Juuse Saros’s self-control, for not going Tuukka Rask on his teammates
  3. Absolutely, definitively, categorically not. There is no third star, unless it’s Pekka Rinne not yelling at everyone on the bench.

Three Things:

  1. This game was brutal start to finish. Saros was great, but the rest of the team was unspeakably bad. I know the Panthers are good, but this was atrocious. The Preds got annihilated in transition every time, and the whole rink was tilted as a result. Not one Preds skater had a good game. Johansen, Carrier, and Cousins had a few plays that were fine, I guess.
  2. Arvidsson lost a ton of puck battles, several of them almost to a slapstick extent. That’s not great itself, but the fact that he didn’t get support for any of them from his linemates is also a problem. He’s a smaller player, and he wasn’t at his best; things are going to happen, but that’s why it’s a team sport, and you’d really like to see the other skaters aware of problems and stepping in.
  3. I still can’t believe the Chicago Blackhawks fired Joel Quenneville because Brent Seabrook was getting older. The man is a damn good coach.

That’s me out for the day. I’m off to eat some Ben & Jerry’s straight out of the container; I wish you all luck with your own eyeball-cleansing rituals if you, too, sat through this game. The Predators are back in action against the Dallas Stars tomorrow night.