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Predators 1, Rangers 0: Saros perfect in nailbiting win

The Nashville Predators took on the New York Rangers tonight in Madison Square Garden some dingy train station in Manhattan. The results? Pretty darn good. Who stood out, what happened, and why did any of it matter? All this and more below.

What went right?

The Predators controlled this game pretty well, generating some early looks against Alex Georgiev from the slot and working the puck around the offensive zone at will. The emphasis on low-high plays benefitted them immensely in a game where they never controlled the Corsi battle, instead giving them the edge in terms of chance quality and differential.

Speaking of low-high movement, some successful puck battles followed by a pass from below the dots handed Nashville the game-winning goal, off of the stick of young Philip Tomasino.

Tomasino has looked a bit lost at times this year and has had trouble finishing on some grade-A chances, so it was a welcome reversal of trends when he opened (and closed) the scoring. Tomasino getting just over a third of the xGF at even strength is a bit alarming, yes, but it’s good to see your young talent finding the back of the net even when their process isn’t great. Consider too that he’s only 20 years old.

Nashville won this game via sound process, but more so on the back of another stellar performance from Juuse Saros. The 26-year-old netminder stopped 31 of 31 shots on goal for his second shutout of the season. Credit to Nashville’s defense for mostly keeping the Rangers’ high octane offensive players to the perimeter, too.

What went wrong?

The Rangers’ top six took control of this game early and never let go. The Preds’ big guns consistently lost matchups with the opposing stars up front all night long, being buoyed by Saros and the bottom six crushing a shallow roster whose fringes are full of overpaid grinders and inexperienced young guns.

Other than that, not much to pick at. Nashville’s depth dominated play in all facets and the defense/goaltending combo held it together long enough to where the Blueshirts couldn’t convert on any of their chances.

However, this happened. Rest In Peace Luke Kunin. We hardly knew ye.

Three Big Things

  1. Congratulations to Matt Benning on what might have been his best game as a Nashville Predator! The bottom pair defender rocked a stat line of a 59.33 CF% and 88 xGF% at even strength, good for 5th and 1st on the team for the evening. After being freed from the play-driving anchors of Jarred Tinordi and Ben Harpur, Benning has rounded into form, showing calm decision making under pressure and a solid playmaking touch on breakout passes. This is what I expected from him after he left Edmonton. Nice stuff.
  2. Juuse Saros ought to be on the fringes of Vezina discussion, and tonight was a perfect example of why. Sprawling save after sprawling save kept Nashville in it against one of the league’s leaders in the standings; a team with the likes of Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanajed, and Adam Fox to propel them to victory. That Saros managed to shut them out for a 1-0 victory despite the top six getting spanked like a naughty kindergartner is even more impressive.
  3. John Hynes’s system isn’t perfect, but in the offensive zone the methodology is working. The transition from Peter Laviolette’s “spam point shots” approach to a more modern, low-high preference taking advantage of trailers entering the zone with speed is a breath of fresh air. When Nick Cousins is getting looks in the slot more often than say, 2019 Filip Forsberg, you’ve found improvement through a coaching change.

Post Game Tunes

A Sturgill Simpson certified classic:

As always, good night, good hockey, and go Predators.