3 Predators Who Need to Step Up For Their Struggling Team

The Nashville Predators started their five-game road trip in fine fashion, winning two of their first three games. However, they were badly outplayed in their final two games, culminating with a 5-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche (Nov. 10). The Predators came out flat in that game after being soundly beaten by the Seattle Kraken two nights before (Nov. 8), losing 5-1. The team now heads back to Smashville, looking for some answers.

The team is still struggling in different areas. Taking too many unnecessary penalties, having an inefficient power play, and multiple breakdowns on defense are just the short list of issues that have led the Predators to a 5-8-1 record heading home on Saturday night (Nov. 12) to face the New York Rangers. There are three members of the team that really need to step up their game if they want to expect to compete for a playoff spot in 2022-23.

Juuse Saros

Gone are the days when Saros and Kevin Lankinen were considered one of the best goaltending duos in the NHL. Lankinen has been adequate, but Saros hasn’t performed anywhere near what he did last season when he was a Vezina Trophy nominee. Inconsistency has plagued the native of Finland, as five of his 10 starts for the Predators have been really good, but the lows have been very low. Saros might have bottomed out Tuesday night (Nov. 8), giving up four goals on only six shots against the Kraken.

Juuse Saros Nashville Predators
Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This statistic seems to sum up the struggles for Saros this season. Among the 64 goalies with at least 100 minutes 5-on-5, he currently ranks 52nd in save percentage (SV%) and 60th in goals saved above average. For comparison, he ranked fifth and first in those two categories in the last two seasons. In his first 10 games this season, the 27-year-old has a 3-6-1 record, a .892 save percentage, and 3.46 goals against average. He has not had a ton of help in his own defensive zone, but he is definitely not playing to the level he has in the past couple of years.

Ryan McDonagh

The 33-year-old has not had the same impact with the Predators as with other teams. When he became one of the salary-cap casualties in Tampa Bay this offseason, the Predators acquired him for the relatively low price of Philippe Myers and forward Grant Mismash. During the preseason, many of the Lightning players talked about how much they were going to miss McDonagh’s leadership and presence and thought he would be able to do the same in Smashville. So far, this has not been the case.

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While his best days are in the rearview mirror, the former Montreal Canadiens draft pick is still considered a top-four defenseman, but he has not played like it this season. Time will tell if the recent split of defensive partners with Mattias Ekholm will have any benefit, but it was clear that there was not much chemistry between the two. He did have a nice pass that led to an Eeli Tolvanen goal in the loss to the Avalanche, but those plays have been few and far between for him this season, in addition to having some breakdowns in the defensive end. Hopefully, for the Predators, it might just be that he is taking a little longer to find where he fits in their system.

Head Coach John Hynes

This season, the Predators have had many mental lapses and times when focus and motivation seem to be issues. Recently, the team has been off to slow starts in games, getting so far behind it has been difficult to catch up. It was blowing third-period leads earlier in the year, as they did on Oct. 20 when they wasted a 3-1 third-period lead and lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-3. In the offseason, the front office tried to bolster the roster by re-signing a key player and adding some solid veterans. At that point, it is up to the coaching staff to take that talent and make it work, which has not happened enough this season.

John Hynes Nashville Predators
John Hynes, Nashville Predators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

“We’ve got to be smarter” was a quote that Hynes made after the loss to the Avalanche, but it is actually a statement that he had made a lot in the early stages of the season. In addition to getting his team to play smarter, he may also want to encourage them to play with a bit more zeal than they have in the past. If it is, one thing that you could usually count on when playing this team was that they would play with at least the same, if not more, intensity than their opponents. So all this leads to the coach needing to find a way to eliminate the issues of coughing up late leads, self-inflicting wounds with bad penalties, and not finishing their scoring chances. The players must shoulder some of the blame, but in the end, the answers start with the head coach.

While these three individuals were mentioned, it’s worth noting that many more on the team need to step up, as Roman Josi noted in his post-game comments after the loss to the Avalanche. “Everybody’s got to step up. We’ve got to find a way to play better consistently, and it starts with each guy individually. We’ve all got to look in the mirror and just be better.” Smashville is hoping that this starts soon so that the Predators do not dig themselves such a big hole that it will be impossible to qualify for the playoffs.

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