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Nashville Predators

Predators vs. Flames Plus/Minus: Juuse Saros, Defense Exposed

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Photo of Roman Josi by John Russell/Nashville Predators

Juuse Saros was pulled for the fifth time this season as the Nashville Predators fell 6-3 to the Calgary Flames at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday night.

It was the 11th time in 39 games the Predators have allowed five or more goals.

With every game you take the good with the bad, so here’s a look at what went right and what didn’t in the Predators’ loss to the Flames.

(-) Juuse Saros

While the Predators did not play well defensively, their goaltender didn’t do much to bail them out either. Saros gave up four goals in the first period and one in the second before being pulled ahead of the third period. It’s the fifth time this season Saros has been relieved in a game.

However, head coach Andrew Brunette didn’t place all of the blame on his goaltender’s shoulders, stating the team performed poorly across the board. But Saros had a negative expected goals against (meaning he let in more goals than expected), which is certainly something to be concerned about as the Predators near the halfway point of the season.

It’s worth considering giving Saros and Kevin Lankinen a more even split of starts for the next month or so, but Brunette quickly dismissed the idea.

“I think we think of everything at all times,” he said. “I think we try to think what’s best for the team and for the goaltending. [Lankinen] has been really good when he’s come in and, you know, I thought he was pretty solid [tonight] besides the little handle that got away from him late in the game. And [Saros] has been really good, you know, I think there’s nights like tonight where maybe he probably would like to have that first or second one back, but then he kept us in the game and gave us a chance in the second.” 

(-) Roman Josi and the defensive unit

It was all around a poor performance from the defensive group, but the captain stood out in particular. As the leader of the team, it’s understandable that he’d want to will the Predators to victory, however, he became a liability against the Flames because he was trying to do too much.

Josi had 21:24 of ice time with 11 shot attempts — five shots were on goal and the other six were either blocked or missed the net. He was on the ice for five of the six goals against, and neither he nor any of the other blue-liners seemed to be in the right position or ready for the speed of the Flames counter-attack.

The second Calgary goal was the result of a turnover on the side boards by Tommy Novak that found the puck rolling to the high slot. Saros missed the glove save and then Josi knocked the puck out of the air into the net. Whether the puck would’ve gone in without Josi touching it is irrelevant as it was an all-around poor defensive effort from everyone involved.

The Flames’ third goal was a result of an offensive-zone turnover where Josi pinched on the left side boards and then he lost the puck as he spun and fell to the ice, leading to a Flames odd-man rush the other way to go up 3-1. 

The fourth and fifth Flames’ goals were due to poor defensive efforts from a structure standpoint. Josi went to block a shot on the fourth goal, but in doing so, he gave up the slot instead of pushing Rasmus Andersson to the outside.

On the fifth goal, both Josi and Ryan McDonagh were hung out to dry by forwards who did not push back hard enough to defend. Cole Smith inexplicably stopped skating, and the player he was defending, Noah Hanifin, cashed in with a back-door goal. But both Josi and McDonagh seemed out of sync on this play.

 

All of the blame doesn’t fall solely on Josi, but it was a game that he simply stuck out for all the wrong reasons. Josi excels when he’s able to join the rush and play with speed, but against the Flames, he and the entire defensive core prevented themselves from doing exactly that. 

(+) Gustav Nyqvist

Nyquist extended his point streak to seven games and was one of the few players who seemed to have a pep in his step, seeking to constantly make a play to get the Predators back into it. The entire top line of Nyquist, Filip Forsberg and Ryan O’Reilly had their moments and were maybe the one bright spot offensively. The trio combined for five shots, one goal and eight scoring chances for at 5-on-5.

(+) Attacking the Slot

This is where the Predators found their success. Their first two goals came via perfect setups to the high slot. The first — from Nyquist to O’Reilly to Forsberg — looked like the traditional power play that we’ve become accustomed to.

The second — a shot on goal with both Jusso Parssinen and Colton Sissons getting the deflections — had plenty of crisp passing with Fabbro cashing in on a perfectly timed shot.

The third goal was more of a fluke, but it doesn’t happen if Michael McCarron doesn’t put the puck on the net. Attacking the slot was always going to be must if Nashville was to have any success against Calgary’s tight, defensive structure. 

Random Thoughts

The Flames defense seemed to be the perfect kryptonite for Brunette’s spread-out, high-octane offensive philosophy. Calgary kept everything wide and only attacked to the outside when it was more than a 50-50 puck. That structure was more like a five-man penalty kill than an even-strength unit.

Brunette chalked up the loss to the Predators simply not being ready to play, but the way he structures his lines and defensemen is something to watch in future games because it really exposed the weaknesses of this Predators team on the rush out of their offensive zone.

“I think [the Flames] just played faster,” Brunette said when asked if Calgary’s defensive formations kept Nashville from playing its game. “They moved the puck faster, they exposed us. We were sleepy, really sleepy on the backend. We just were, you know, the forwards didn’t help out much, but we were just a little sleepy back there.” 

Follow Clay Brewer on Twitter/X: @ClayBrewer10

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