The Nashville Predators continue to lose key players to injury, but continue to hold onto the final playoff spot in the Central Division.

After beating the Detroit Red Wings in a shootout on Tuesday night, Nashville has 43 points in 40 games, giving them a two point lead over Chicago (40 games) and a seven point lead over Dallas (37 games).

This is despite not having Matt Duchene, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Ellis, Alexandre Carrier, and Mark Borowiecki in their lineup for several games. Also, on Tuesday, Viktor Arvidsson missed his first game of the season, having left Sunday’s game against Chicago with an ugly looking upper body injury.

Perhaps the most important factor in the Preds’ recent run, where they’ve won 10 of their last 12 games, has been their goaltending. Juuse Saros has a .960 save percentage in his last 12 games, including two shutouts.

Head coach John Hynes thinks it’s Juuse Saros’ positioning and “cerebral” play that has led to so much success.

“He’s a very positionally sound goalie,” Hynes said after the 3-2 shootout win. “Lots of times he makes very difficult saves, but they don’t look as hard. Some guys I think can be really athletic and they rely maybe more on instincts or size or things like that, where a guy Juuse, he’s smart, he’s cerebral, he reads the play.”

“[Saros] made some big time saves tonight at key times, but a lot of it just comes from his readiness and reading the play. Sometimes they may look like there not going to be on NHL Tonight highlights, but because he’s in position, he’s so solid and makes big time saves regularly for us.”

Any team can win “big time” games with ace goaltending like the Nashville Predators have been getting, but with so many other players out of the lineup, they’ve also needed young guys to step up.

Youth leading Preds to playoff race

Plenty of young guys are contributing with so many veterans out of the lineup. Eeli Tolvanen leads the team in power play goals with six, and he’s been one of the team’s most dangerous offensive forwards over the last couple months. Luke Kunin, since returning from injury on March 27th, has six points in six games, including this game tying goal against the Reds Wings on Tuesday:

Then there’s defenseman Jeremy Davies, who just put in his 10th career NHL game with the Preds, all of which have come this season, playing mostly on the bottom pairing with veteran Ben Harpur. The 24-year-old blueliner that was a small part of the P.K. Subban trade with New Jersey, says he’s excited about playing on an NHL team that is pushing for the playoffs.

“It’s exciting, you know, you watch it growing up,” Davies said at morning skate on Tuesday. “This is the most exciting time of the year, after the playoffs, it’s what leads up to the playoffs. Some teams are at the top and some teams are kind of the middle, battling for spots. Obviously, that’s the position we’re in right now.”

It’s important for young guys and/or guys who lack experience to understand where they fit in the lineup when on a team pushing for the playoffs. It sounds like Davies understands exactly how he fits in to this Nashville Predators squad.

“For myself, I kind of know my role in the lineup. I’m just trying to play a solid game every time I get in the lineup. I just want to do whatever I can do to help the team win. It’s been fun so far, I feel like everyone is chipping in. Older guys, younger guys. Our goaltending has been outstanding. It’s exciting, we’re really focused on this stretch of games coming up here.”

John Hynes on preparing young Preds for playoff hockey

Hynes and his coaching staff know how challenging it can be to play in the NHL playoffs, or even in the games leading up to the NHL playoffs. But communicating how different the speed and physicality of playoff hockey is can be challenging.

“I think it’s a combined approach with the coaches. We’ve addressed that with our group, just in this last little stretch here, why we’ve been able to have success. It’s the intensity level that we’re playing with. That type of work ethic and commitment and five on five structure. All those components of our game have allowed us to have some success and we really need to continue that.”

The Preds have only 16 games remaining on the schedule. To add to that, because of the altered division-only scheduling, nearly every one of those is against teams competing for the same playoff spot that the Preds currently hold.

“The less and less the schedule ticks down, the games do become more intense. Because, and we’ve talked to [the young guys] about this, you have a team like us that is hunting in the standings and we’re trying to make our mark, you have a couple teams below us that are hunting for our spot. You have the top teams in the division that are hunting for the number one spot. All those things really increase the intensity.”

“So the volume of the schedule goes down, but the intensity level goes up night in and night out and that’s something that we do address with our team and I think that’s something that we discuss with players individually particularly the young guys.”

Hynes also mentioned the Nashville Predators’ most recent loss to the Dallas Stars as a good learning experience for the young players.

“Like if you take that Dallas series, that 2nd night in Dallas, it was big, heavy, hard hockey, and those are things even in game it’s important that the players help each other understand what needs to be done and how it’s gonna be.”

— Featured image via Tim Fuller/USA TODAY Sports —
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