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Recap: Saros shines as Predators defeat Penguins

The Penguins try a lot of new things, but not much fools Nashville goalie Juuse Saros, as the Preds take a 4-1 win

Pittsburgh Penguins v Nashville Predators Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

After a slow start, the Penguins got better in the second half of the first period, but it would be Nashville who would strike at almost the buzzer of the opening period to open the scoring. On a Pittsburgh d-zone draw with about 10 seconds left, Matt Duchene cleanly won a draw against Teddy Blueger. The Preds ran a set play that showed some players crash the net and Mattias Ekholm escape into empty space. Filip Forsberg let Ekholm creep into a shooting spot and fed it to him for a finish with just 1.5 seconds left in the period.

In the second period, the Pens would be the ones to take advantage of an offensive zone face off and score a goal off it. Sidney Crosby won a faceoff and pushed his point streak to 10 games after Kris Letang made a really nice cross-ice pass for Jake Guentzel. Guentzel showed his preternatural skill to hang on for just a beat to widen the angle and allow Juuse Saros move laterally just so there would be enough room to snipe far-side on a really good shot to tie the game at 1.

Nashville pushed back with a deflection goal to re-take the lead. Point machine Roman Josi got his 50th assist of the year with a point shot that rookie Tanner Jeannot tipped in front to foil Casey DeSmith.

The Preds extended it to 3-1 as the newly united Mike Matheson and Kris Letang nearly collided as they both tried to close in on a loose puck. That sprung Eeli Tolvanen for a breakaway and he snapped a shot home.

The rest of the game the Preds are in a defensive shell, the Penguins did well to get shots and chances, but unfortunately for them Juuse Saros simply did better to answer them.

Nashville scores on the open net with 1:50, even though there wasn’t much of a question about the outcome by that point.

Some thoughts

  • A scary moment was avoided early in the game when a falling Sidney Crosby got his arm stepped on by Ekholm accidentally. Crosby immediately left the ice but was quick to return, we assume, with no real cut or a situation as bad as it could have been.
  • The Pens stayed fluid with their lineup, Dominik Simon was in for Zach Aston-Reese after pair of games as a healthy scratch. Think Sullivan regretted that seeing Simon flail to the ice in the dying seconds of the first period with one of his best pure defensive wingers in the press box? OK, a bit dramatic there and Aston-Reese might not have been the difference, and really ya just gotta tip your cap for a very nice play ran by the Preds.
  • A bigger lineup change that was more directly involved in a goal against was the miscue by Matheson and Letang on the goal that really broke the Pens’ backs. There’s really no time to communicate, players have to know which one is going to commit to the puck and which one should fall back (if they allow such a big space to even between them to form in the first place, as another troubling sign). Both Matheson and Letang are “commit to the puck” type of guys. Both did what they are trained to do and it resulted in disaster. Tough to imagine if that was Letang and Brian Dumoulin that plays out the same way, but lack of familiarity and player fits are important, and Sullivan now probably has to take a long look at just how long this experiment of a pair is going to go.
  • (In fact, as writing this in the third period, Sully might have had already that internal debate; Dumoulin-Letang are back together and Matheson is with John Marino for the third).
  • More lineup changes continued with Evan Rodrigues jumping up with Crosby-Guentzel early in the game and Bryan Rust moving down to play with Malkin-Heinen. That’s always a notable occurrence, since Mike Sullivan almost never splits Guentzel or Rust away from Crosby when given the choice to play them together. The results were..nothing tangible. Rodrigues looked OK, especially on the power play with the top guns (when Guentzel was in the box).
  • Sullivan’s fun didn’t stop there: Rust got a shift on the PK in the third. Hey, you’re down 3-1, why not? Crosby+Malkin+Guentzel in the shift after the penalty was killed, which used to be a Dan Bylsma staple but hasn’t happened much in the typically static and inflexible style of Sullivan. At that point, doesn’t hurt to mix it up a bit.
  • It was small goalie night in Nashville tonight with DeSmith (generously listed at 6’0) dueling with fellow smol king Juuse Saros (5’11 officially, which also seems like he might have been on tip toes for the measurement). Very unusual matchup these days in the land of giants that NHL goalies have become.
  • Uncharacteristic game for the Pens to take five penalties resulting in power plays (and another matching minor). That’s not even THAT many penalties, but they didn’t feel particularly well-earned. Nashville was very well schooled to feel a stick in their feet and fall or grab a stick in their arm and fall, which why stop when the refs are buyin’?
  • In more thoughts mainly for my own enjoyment: Nashville has been in the NHL since 1999-2000, but tonight was only the 32nd all-time PIT/NSH regular season game (Pens now have a 16-12-2 record with two ties). That is so low, between lockouts and pandemics and all it’s hard to believe these two teams have competed in the same league for almost a quarter of a century. Crosby has only played 18 career games against Nashville! Malkin just 15!
  • The Pens’ power play has hit a rut, 0/4 on the night and just 1 for the last 16 lately. When this group struggles, there’s no masking or disguising it — it’s not a pretty sight. Right now, it’s not going well for them. But, as a wise man once said, there’s only a small difference between a groove and a rut, and a breakthrough with one snappy play will likely open the floodgates for the next bunch of power plays chances.
  • One small positive note was the PK went 5/5 though, if you’re trying to find something to show the glass as quarter full after this game.
  • Lasting thought on this is, yep, turns out Juuse Saros is a top-five goalie in the league this year. 35 saves by the Nashville on 36 shots was the major difference of this game. He was dialed in for this one.

Not a great start of the week for the league’s best road team, but they move onto St. Louis and look to meet the Blues on Thursday to get back at it.