The Nashville Predators notched an impressive 5-0 win over the New York Islanders last night, bouncing back after a disappointing loss to Vancouver on Monday night.

Though most of the game was about Craig Smith’s first career hat trick, perhaps the biggest reason the Preds won the game was the play of goalie Juuse Saros.

With the Preds putting up goals at the other end, the Islanders were pressing for much of the 1st and 2nd periods to try and get back in the game. The defensive structure of the Preds was doing its best to keep the Isles at bay, but breakdowns were inevitable, as they have been all season.

Juuse Saros was up to the task. He stopped all 31 shots for his 2nd shutout of the season and earned the 2nd star of the game, behind Craig Smith.

“I saw a lot of pucks, a lot of shots from the outside,” Juuse Saros said after the game. “So that will always get you going too. I felt calm tonight.”

Saros added that the whole team factored into the win tonight, mentioning that Smith’s early goals were key to getting things started right.

“I think it’s a good team win. Everybody played really well and really bought in. It’s been a while since we played a good game at home, so it was nice to get a few goals right from the start.”

But an interesting trend is starting to emerge as it relates to the Preds’ goaltending. Saros has started four of the last six games for the Preds, as well as he relieved Pekka Rinne in Vancouver after he gave up three goals in the 1st period.

In fact, John Hynes has split the duties evenly since taking over as coach. If you don’t count the Boston Bruins game, when he had barely been in town long enough to learn everyone’s name, Hynes has coached 14 games for the Nashville Predators. Each goalie has seven starts in that span.

Does this mean there’s been a change in the default starting goalie for the team? Have we seen the “changing of the guard?”

John Hynes on the Preds’ goalies

Not so fast, says John Hynes.

“I don’t know about that. I think if you look at the Vegas game, [Pekka Rinne] was probably our best player and our team wasn’t very good. Then we gave the start to [Juuse Saros] on the road and he played well, found a way to win.”

Hynes then went on to say that Rinne hasn’t been playing poorly and the recent decisions are more about playing the “hot hand” in net.

“It was kind of a road trip – just in a situation where he seemed like he was hot and feeling well so we stayed with him on the road trip. I think the Vancouver game – when you go back to the goals in the Vancouver game, again, I don’t think you can necessarily say [Rinne] didn’t play well. There were bad bounces off [Ryan Johansen’s] shin pad, off [Dan Hamhuis] and it went in, bounced off three guys and it went in. Unfortunately, it wasn’t good for him. I’ve liked his game and I think he’splaying well.”

Most importantly, Hynes knows the team will need to have two healthy, effective goalies if the team is to make a run to the playoffs.

“We’re going to need both guys to play well down the stretch with all the games we have

A quick glance at the numbers suggests that Saros is clearly the better goalie right now. Since January 1st, Saros is 5-2-1 with a .931 save percentage and a 2.22 goals allowed average. Rinne is 4-6-0 with an .898 save percentage and a 3.10 goals allowed average.

That contrasts sharply with how Saros performed earlier in the year, where he was one of the worst goalies in the NHL at even strength and in high danger situations. His rebound control has improved nicely since then, plus he’s started to show flashes of brilliance when fighting off shots from in close.

Hynes is probably being honest when he says there hasn’t been a change in net for the Nashville Predators. However, it will be interesting to see what happens if the team makes the playoffs. If the philosophy of “playing the hot hand” holds true, it would be hard for Hynes to go with Rinne over Saros in a playoff game at this point.

— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —
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