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Preds-Canucks 2024: The Goalies

Oct 24, 2023; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Nashville Predators left wing Kiefer Sherwood (44) has a wrap around attempt stopped by Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) during the first period at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s pretty exciting to see Nashville back in the playoffs this season. I’m here to preview the goaltending for this Round 1 matchup.

Nashville Predators Goaltending

We know (and so does the entire League) that Juuse Saros is an elite netminder. This season, however, he’s looked simply ordinary. There’ve been flashes of the usual Saros, including some incredible work during Nashville’s 18-game point streak. I think any disappointment is because most of us expect Saros to be extraordinary all the time.

“Little Bear” (did you forget that nickname?) was less-than-stellar in his two starts against Vancouver this season. He posted only a .906 Sv% this year, the lowest of his career. Still, if we’re comparing Vancouver and Nashville, Nashville’s got the edge in goaltending. Here’s one of my favorite Saros saves from this season:

Kevin Lankinen is a worthy backup for the Preds, posting 11-6-0 in relief of his fellow Finn. Lankinen will probably warm the bench, barring an injury to Saros. Nashville recently recalled Gustav Grigals from Atlanta of the ECHL, and he’ll serve as the third goalie. Nashville’s rookie stud Yaroslav Askarov will be leaned on heavily by the Milwaukee Admirals in their Calder Cup run.

Vancouver Canucks Goaltending

I’ve long been a fan of Thatcher Demko, and the Vancouver net is squarely his. He’s looked fine since returning from a knee injury a few games ago, but that knee will certainly be a concern for the Vancouver coaching staff.

Demko played sparingly last season due to a groin injury, so Vancouver sought out a reliable backup in Casey DeSmith. Demko went 35-14-2 with a 2.45 goals-against average this season, and DeSmith went 4-5-1 with a .888 SV%. DeSmith is probably not the guy Vancouver fans want to see in net during this playoff run, so I’m sure they’re hoping that a healthy Demko can backstop them to a series victory.

I’d expect Demko to make heavy use of his glove hand. He’s got size to rely on, and he’s going to bring consistency without flashiness, excessive sprawl, or drama. Check out this incredible glove save on a 2-on-1 against the Kings:

Goaltending Edge

Sorry, Canucks fans. I give the edge to “Juice” in gold. The NHL.com official preview notes that “Saros can carry his strong play from late in the regular season into the playoffs. He was 15-3-3 with a 2.51 GAA and .916 save percentage in his final 21 games, allowing two goals or fewer in 13 of them. The Canucks can attack in waves, so the Predators will need their No. 1 goalie to play like a star if they are to have any hope of advancing.”

As you can see from this chart, Saros played very strongly during that run, even before the team in front of him started their brilliant play (the areas shaded in gray, with the team’s performance on the second row and Saros’s on the third):

Good defense from the Preds will put them and Saros in a position to succeed, and is something we’d love to see. Still, even if the defense falters, Saros has the ability to play well through adversity, as we’ve all seen him do, and this season’s Preds have more offensive talent and style than we’re used to seeing.

While Demko is an extremely talented netminder, he’s also still coming back from an injury. He’s only played in two games since March 9th, where turned in a great performance against the out-of-the-picture Flames and a much shakier one against the Jets. Jumping almost straight into a playoff series is a lot to ask of a goalie.

Saros has a chance–and the skill–to steal the series for Nashville.

Talking Points