The Nashville Predators remain a .500 hockey team after posting a 1-1 record over the weekend following their first back-to-back of the 2023 season.
After falling to the New York Rangers 4-3 at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday, the Predators flew to Buffalo the next day where they grinded out a win against the Sabres in a 2-1 victory.
With every game you take the good with the bad (and Predators coaches and players believed there was a lot of good to take form the two performances over the weekend). Here’s a look at what went right and what didn’t for the Predators against the Rangers and Sabres:
(+) Playing with confidence
At the start of this season, data points made it clear to many that this was, in fact, looking like a rebuilding year. However, the tides seem to have shifted over the last few weeks with the Predators beginning to play with more confidence in head coach Andrew Brunette’s new system, which was on full display when the Rangers came to Nashville on Saturday and again Sunday in Buffalo.
The Rangers are one of the top teams in the NHL this season, and the Predators are one of only four teams with a regulation win over them through 23 games. Nashville put on a performance that was deserving of a season sweep of the blue shirts (they outshot them 39-26, they out-hit them 34-26, they took two fewer penalties), however, a few bad bounces and highly skilled plays from the Rangers made the difference. Against the Sabres, Juuse Saros appeared to be back to his old self after a rough outing vs. Minnesota, stopping 34 of 35 shots (.971 save percentage) and allowing his fewest goals against since Oct. 21 against the San Jose Sharks.
The biggest negative from the weekend was the failure to get the desired results. There can only be so many moral victories before the need for collecting points takes priority. The silver lining is that Brunette’s system is beginning to click with the players and the team is finding itself in strong competition with the league’s best.
But the downside is that many of Nashville’s strong performances are not equating to points. Nashville has blown a two-goal lead in three of its last four games, and four of the team’s 12 losses have come in one-goal games. The Predators outshot the opposition in three of those losses, which should have easily been wins.
(+) Kevin Lankinen
Lankinen is a very capable backup, and he played well enough to deserve a win against the Rangers on Saturday. There’s no question that Saros has played a lot of games over the last couple of seasons, and Lankinen has the ability to start consecutive games and keep the Predators competitive while affording Saros some extra rest.
Lankinen faced 24 shots against the Rangers, saving 20 of them for a save percentage of .833. While that may not seem overly impressive, 11 of those 24 saves were on high-danger chances (he also had a 2.18 expected goals against, per Natural Stat Trick). But data does not always tell the whole story, and Lankinen’s performance against the Rangers is one of those times. The first goal he allowed was due to a defensive breakdown, and the second was a high-skilled play by Chris Kreider batting the puck out of the air (video below).
New York’s third goal was another high-skilled re-direct from Vincent Trochek (video below).
And the game-winner came on a deflection off Predators defenseman Jeremy Lauzon’s skate (video below).
In short, Lankinen has played well in his starts this season, and in relief when Saros has been pulled. Although it is unlikely to occur, the Predators coaching staff would be justified should they decide to ride out Lankinen’s hot hand and permit Saros a bit of time to reset. Brunette is adamant on these “resets” for his skaters, so why not take the same approach with his goaltenders?
(+) Yakov Trenin and Colton Sissons
Trenin continues to be a force on the ice, adding much-needed depth production to the Predators lineup. He has been really adapting to his role as a power forward, contributing both offensively and defensively.
Over the weekend he notched his second assist against the Rangers with a strong play getting the puck out of the defensive zone to Sissons for his third short-handed goal of the season (video below).
While the first Rangers goal could be chalked up to a defensive error on Trenin, the entire defensive structure resorted to puck watching on that play and the blame could be passed around to any player on the ice during that shift (video below).
Trenin also logged his fifth goal of the season against Buffalo on a deflection from a shot by Sissons (video below).
Trenin will never be a flashy player, and he’ll be the first to tell you that. His passion for the game is undeniable, and his depth production is something Nashville greatly needs along with his defensive prowess as a two-way forward, which is a big reason why the Predators’ penalty kill has really turned around.
Sissons’ strong play on both sides of the puck has been well-documented during his tenure, and it’s a positive sign to see Sissons and Trenin rekindling the chemistry they built over the years, regardless of who may join them as the second winger on that line.
(All videos courtesy of the NHL’s YouTube Channel)
Follow Clay Brewer on Twitter/X: @ClayBrewer10