When Nashville Predators goalie Juuse Saros started the year 1-3-1 with a save percentage of .869 and a 3.71 goals against average, many thought the 22-year-old Finn had hit a sophomore slump. Fast forward one month and Saros is playing perhaps the best hockey of his career.
Saturday night, in the final game of 2017 at Bridgestone Arena, Saros was nothing short of dominant. Stopping all 29 shots he faced, the 5-foot-11 goalie earned his second shutout of the season, leading the Preds to a 3-0 win over the Minnesota Wild.
“I felt really good,” Saros said. “We’re excited, that was what we wanted after yesterday. So, I’ve got to be thankful.”
“He was awesome,” defenseman P.K. Subban added. “Both of them have been great all year, but I thought we actually played a lot better today in front of Juuse than in front of Peks.
“We felt really bad letting Peks down yesterday. He kept us in the game, making 20 saves in the first period and we wanted to make sure we came out with a better effort today and we did that.”
Saros allowed 19 goals in the first five games of 2017. Due to those early-season struggles, Saros was sent to Milwaukee a few times this year to get some regular playing time and shake off whatever rust he appeared to have.
Since his return, he appears to be back to his old self – the one who looked like the heir apparent to Pekka Rinne in 2016. In his last five games, Saros has surrendered just five goals, with two shutouts and a 26-save relief appearance, where he didn’t allow a goal.
“Ben Vanderklok, I think he does a terrific job with the goalies of just meeting with them and talking about their game sand trying to settle their game down,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “I do think getting some playing time down in Milwaukee was beneficial for him.
“It was just a short stint, but it was right at the beginning of the year, so it made some noise. I think there’s a tremendous amount of confidence with regard to Juuse, from the coaching staff to the players, he’s a terrific, young goalie and I think you’re starting to see that now.”
In his last five games, including four starts, Saros is 3-0-1 with a .972 save percentage and a 1.00 goals against average. He even set a new franchise record for most saves in a shutout (46) against the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 14.
“I’m feeling good,” Saros said. “Obviously, every game is different. I’ve just got to make the most out of it and be better again the next day.”
“He’s really confident,” Laviolette added. “He’s playing really well. Our guys played much better around him, but there’s still big saves that needed to be made and he’s got some confidence. His last four, five, six outings have been terrific.”