“We have two great goaltenders, but he’s [Juuse Saros] standing on his head right now”
Nino Neiderreiter after Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss
After a relatively rough start to the 2022-23 season, Juuse Saros has started to round into form and the goaltending battle between the Predators’ netminder and the great Andrei Vasilevskiy of Tampa Bay was worth the price of admission Saturday night as the Nashville Predators fell in overtime to the Lightning 3-2.
The game started quickly once again, after an extended pregame ceremony for Hockey Fights Cancer Night, Filip Forsberg had no trouble finding the back of the net just under two minutes into the contest. Captain Roman Josi drew a tripping penalty against another all-star defenseman Victor Hedman just 39 seconds into the first period, and some excellent puck movement by Juuso Parssinen and Mattias Ekholm gave Nashville an early lead off a much-needed power play goal.
Forsberg scored his second goal in as many games, but the Swedish winger had high praise for linemate and rookie Parssinen, who has started his NHL debut with 5 points in 4 games. “He looks like an NHL player who’s been doing this ten years. One of those classic Finnish two-way centers that you hate playing against when you’re a Swede, but it’s awesome when he’s on your team,” Forsberg remarked on the rookie who has played alongside him and Mikael Granlund since the beginning of the homestand.
The first period would conclude with the Forsberg goal being the only points on the scoreboard, but the Lightning had applied pressure in the second half of the period, and rode that momentum out of the locker room into a Nikita Kucherov goal on the power play just 4:25 into the second period.
“[Kucherov] was awesome tonight,” Alex Killorn said. “That goal, him going end to end, scoring. On my goal, he makes an unbelievable play off the wall. Then he gets the game-winning assist to Stamkos. He was definitely our best player tonight.” Kucherov - a perennial NHL all-star dazzled both his teammates and the crowd after taking the puck from his own blue line straight down the center to give him the game-tying goal.
The Nashville Predators, giving up the game-tying goal off of a penalty, would see the familiar boogeyman of spending too much time in the penalty box raise it’s ugly head once again Saturday night. The Predators would end up committing seven penalties in the game, killing off four (one was a double penalty to Nashville and Tampa Bay), but bookended by two game-defining goals. The Lightning would once again outshoot the Predators in the second period, but the Nashville offense gained some momentum at the end of the second, and like the Lightning, would translate that into an early goal in the third.
Tampa Bay would quickly get the first two shots of the period, but Nashville would respond with five of their own, including a Nino Neiderreiter goal just over five minutes into the period, assisted by Matt Duchene. Neiderreiter, who scored his third goal in as many games downplayed the streak after the game, mentioning that “I’ve just been trying to get pucks to the net and get to the [high-danger] areas, and get my shot off where I can.” However, that would be the team-leading ninth goal on the season for Neiderreiter, who has easily been the best of Nashville’s offseason acquisitions.
Nashville would spend the first half of the final frame in control of the pace of play - thanks in part to much-improved transition play through the neutral zone. Predators head coach John Hynes spoke about the improved play after the game. “Well, we always have an emphasis on and I think our execution has been better,” Hynes mentioned, noting that it’s “not only the execution, but the puck decisions and I think we’ve made good decisions when there’s ice to play in front of us”. Nashville had used a three-player attack throughout the game in the neutral zone, with the initial puck carrier dropping the puck back at the opponent’s blue line to three waiting players who will make the entry and decide to pass once inside the offensive zone - and for the most part, was very successful throughout the game.
Despite controlling puck possession for most of the first half of the third period, the Tampa Bay Lightning quickly reverted to the form of the reigning Eastern Conference champions, and applied a ton of pressure late in the game, which had the home team on their heels for the rest of regulation. With just under four minutes remaining in the game Alex Killorn would take an Ian Cole shot and deflect it past Juuse Saros to tie the game late at two goals a piece.
Even Killorn, however, recognized that the two regulation goals were hard-earned against the stellar play of Juuse Saros. “You just can’t force it,” Killorn said. “[Saros] made a ton of great saves. He was really good for them tonight. Once we got one … it was just continue, continue, continue. If he’s going to make that many saves the entire game, good on him, but we were able to get a couple in at the end.”
The game-tying goal would come after Zach Bogosian - playing in his first game back from injury - took a kneeing penalty against Tanner Jeannot, but the Predators were unable to convert on the power play. Nashville would end the contest going just 1 for 5 with the man advantage, and Killorn would score not long after the penalty had expired.
A flurry of Tampa Bay shots would mark the end of regulation for the teams, and Nashville would get at least one point in all four of the games of this homestand. Despite losing the late lead, the Predators had already made great strides since the five game road trip the previous weeks (Nashville only collected 4 of 10 possible points).
The overtime period began with a great opportunity from Filip Forsberg, but the Predators found themselves in trouble soon after, with Steven Stamkos creating a turnover with under three minutes to go and streaking towards Juuse Saros nearly unimpeded until Mattias Ekholm committed a possible goal-saving slash, sending Nashville out to kill a 4 on 3 power play from the Lightning. But it wouldn’t take long for Lightning to strike in the extra frame, as Stamkos would win the faceoff against Mikael Granlund, and Kucherov would collect his third point of the evening, finding Stamkos between the circles for a hard shot that beat Saros and won the game for the visiting team, a final score of 3-2, dropping Nashville to 8-8-2 in the standings with 18 points in 18 games.
Notes from the Game
- Cody Glass re-entered the lineup in favor of Mark Jankowski. Coach Hynes mentioned that Jankowski missed the game with an undisclosed injury, but was satisfied with the way Glass had played back on the ice. Glass, as well as his linemates Eeli Tolvanen and Cole Smith were the only forward line at 5 on 5 to control both the shot volume and quality while on the ice against the high-volume offense Tampa Bay succeeded with against the other three lines.
- Hynes was also happy with the way the duo of Roman Josi and Ryan McDonaugh played in their second game together. Josi, like Ekholm earlier this season, has moved to the right side to partner with McDonaugh, and was not on the ice for any of the Lightning’s three goals. McDonaugh saw some improvements to his play as well, however, didn’t quite have the performance he saw against the Islanders on Thursday night.
- The line of Neiderreiter, Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene stayed behind in both shot volume and quality throughout the game, but despite the lack of offense (outside of the Neiderreiter goal), Johansen and Duchene both had multiple strong defensive plays, especially on the backcheck, to limit Tampa’s scoring opportunities, despite giving up a lot of attempts toward Saros.
- Nashville continued the trend of playing like an average team. The team is 4-6-2 against teams higher than them in the standings after Saturday’s game, but 4-2-0 against teams beneath them. Nashville faces the 29th place Arizona Coyotes on Monday evening (6-9-1), but the team will have to be careful, as they’ve already had a blowout loss to the 31st place Columbus Blue Jackets (6-10-1).
Three Stars of the Game
Third star: Nashville forward Filip Forsberg - 1 goal
Second star: Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy - 37 of 39 shots saved
First star: Tampa Bay forward Steven Stamkos - Game-winning goal