This past offseason saw the Nashville Predators’ franchise goaltender, Pekka Rinne, make the decision to retire from the NHL. Nashville drafted Rinne in 2004, and he ended up spending his entire professional hockey career playing for the Predators. During his extensive tenure in “Smashville,” the star set records for the most wins, and shutouts, by a goalie in Predators’ history.
Since Nashville saw Rinne, the most accomplished goaltender in the history of the franchise, choose to retire shortly after last year’s playoff run ended, the Predators are left with a very puzzling question. Who will fill the gigantic hole in their lineup, now that their superstar goalkeeper is no longer on the team? However, “Smashville” should actually already have the answer to this question right in front of them because the man that has the potential to save the Predators’ 2021-2022 season is 2013 draftee: Juuse Saros.
As surprising as it sounds, Saros was the one who Nashville selected as their primary goal protector in the midst of their playoff series against the Hurricanes last year, not Rinne. In Game 4 of last year’s First Round playoff matchup between Carolina and Nashville, the Predators desperately needed a win due to them losing 2 of the first 3 games in the series. Nashville would ultimately go on to win the vital Game 4, in large part, because of Juuse Saros, who posted a fantastic 95% save rate against an extremely dangerous Hurricane offense. Another reason that this game was so significant in Saros’ development to be the new franchise goaltender is that he did not allow a single goal to be scored on any of the 6 Hurricane power plays that took place. Though, the exclamation point on this being Saros’ proverbial coming out party, other than it being a playoff game against one of four #1 seeds, was that he did not allow Carolina to score a goal in either of the two overtime periods.
Since Saros displayed his ability to be a primary goaltender for the Predators in last year’s playoff stretch, he also needed to show the team that his excellent play at the end of last season was not a mere flash in the pan. With this year’s preseason now completed, he has taken major steps on the path to proving that Pekka Rinne’s retirement does not necessarily mean that “Smashville” is done contending when it matters. This past Saturday, against a familiar opponent in Carolina, Saros once again showcased a dominant 95% save rate by only giving up 1 goal against 24 Hurricane shot attempts. However, over the course of this preseason Juuse has also demonstrated that he has great success against more teams than just the Hurricanes. On October 2nd, Saros posted another fantastic save percentage of 94%, very similar to his other outings, in a dominant 6 – 1 victory over the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
Many hockey fans do not consider the Predators to be a legitimate contender this season, but instead believe that “Smashville” is actually closer to a rebuilding project than a true threat to win the Stanley Cup. One of the biggest reasons this is thought to be true is because Pekka Rinne was the goalie that the team could always count on to show up in the biggest of moments, and now he is no longer available. Although, Juuse Saros has been coming into form as of late, and he can keep the Predators out of rebuild mode.
In essence, we all know that every Nashville Predators fan is going to miss the beloved star in Pekka Rinne, but Saros has the potential to keep “Smashville” from entering the dreaded rebuilding phase of a NHL franchise. His ability to keep the opposing team from being able to score on the Predators will mean that the Predators offense should not have to score too many goals in order to win a large chunk of their games this season. The role that Saros will be asked to fill this year will not be an easy one, but he has shown that he has all of the skills and abilities needed to get the job done.Embed from Getty Images