With training camp being one week in and the Nashville Predators getting ready to take on the Arizona Coyotes in less than two weeks, today we look at the three keys to the Predators’ play-in round success.
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Since the get-go of training camp, head coach John Hynes has made sure the intensity has been at an all-time high. He has thrown his players into game-like situations to prepare them for the unpredictable 2020 playoffs.
Key Number 1: Goaltending
The biggest head-scratcher for the Predators is, who is between the pipes for Game 1? Pekka Rinne is looking to be on the decline and Juuse Saros is looking to be on the incline, so the question is, who does Hynes start in the net?
Obviously Rinne has more playoff experience then Saros, but will that be a deciding factor for Hynes?
Despite poor performances in his past two years in the playoffs, Rinne’s overall playoff resume has been solid. In 89 career playoff games, he has posted a 45-44-0 record with a 2.49 goals against average (GAA) and a .914 save percentage (SV%).
His best year was in 2016-2017 where the Predators fell short in the Stanley Cup Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Rinne posted a 14-8 record in 22 games with a 1.96 GAA and a .930 SV% in that run.
We knew that coming into camp there was going to be some friendly competition for the “starting goalie” role. That being said, before the NHL Pause, Saros was most certainly the “hotter” goalie.
The 25-year-old came off a season where he posted a career high in games played with 40, shutouts with 4, and saves with 1,044. Saros’ season saw him post a 17-12-4 record with a 2.70 GAA and a .914 SV%. He also matched his career-best 17 wins.
In three years of playoff experience, Saros has never started a game, but has appeared in seven games. The Finnish netminder stopped 74 shots out of the 80 he has faced. In that small sample size, he managed to record a 1.67 GAA and a .925 SV%.
Key Number 2: Treating It Like a New Season
It’s a fresh start for the Predators and a fresh start for some underperforming players. I’d say the teams who were cruising through their regular-season schedules and sitting at the top of their division, may view this differently than the Predators.
The Preds were hanging on a thread before the NHL Pause and truth be told, the team has been battling for the playoffs since January. If they played out the final 13 games, who knows if the Predators would qualify for the playoffs, especially in such a jam-packed Central Division. Hence, why they need to treat this like a fresh start, take advantage of this unique opportunity, press the reset button, and come out firing on all cylinders, as they did in October.
Not only is this a fresh start for the team but also for players. Especially, one player in particular — Kyle Turris.
This season has been rough for Turris. Under former head coach Peter Laviolette, Turris spent some time on the healthy scratch list. Whether it was to energize him or to keep him fresh and healthy for the trade deadline, Laviolette had him out of the lineup for seven straight games.
Even though several players were struggling, Turris was singled out. Naturally, the higher the player’s salary, the higher the expectations are for him to perform at a top-level. Well, that was not the case for Turris. In this shortened season, he only mustered 9 goals for 31 points overall.
I believe Turris was affected by Laviolette’s coaching style and did not fit the way he wanted his team to play. With Hynes as the new coach, Turris had to have felt some relief, but should still feel a little pressured to perform up to expectations. Judging by Hynes’ decision to plug Turris in as the second line left-winger, Hynes must believe Turris can still be a viable weapon and deserves the chance at quality ice time with two playmakers in Matt Duchene and Mikael Granlund.
Key Number 3: The JoFA Line
With the first full week of training camp complete for the Nashville Predators, we are starting to see the possible lines for the qualifying round against the Coyotes.
The Predators constantly changed their line combinations during the regular season, so I guess we don’t really know what to expect for Game 1. However, taking a look at training camp, I am proud to tell you the JoFA line is back!
The Predators’ top line — consisting of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson — didn’t play much during the regular season. That being said, Hynes is looking for the JoFA line to display past success and come up big for the team in the play-in round.
Hynes also wanted to maintain some consistency and kept the third line intact with Rocco Grimaldi, Nick Bonino, and Craig Smith. This line has been the most consistent all season offensively and defensively. With Smith’s 18 goals, Bonino’s 18 goals, and Grimaldi’s 21 assists, Hynes can expect a dynamite third-line.
We all remember the JoFA line and how important their success together has meant to the team, and hope they can find that again and pull it out against the Coyotes.
These three keys are crucial for the Predators to have success in the play-in round but also the playoffs in general. I am excited to see who mans the crease for game one. I think I can speak for y’all in saying I’m excited to see the JoFA line back together. Lastly, I am excited to see what Turris can do on such an intriguing second line and I believe that Turris can bring out his former self and provide strong play.