Thoughts: Goalies star as Predators slip by Blackhawks

After squeaking by the Blackhawks in overtime on Tuesday, the Predators once again got that extra point via a 2-1 shootout win on Wednesday.

Here are some takeaways from a game where goals were tough to come by.

Ultimately, Juuse Saros and Matt Duchene made the difference in the Predators’ shootout win against the Blackhawks. Duchene scored the lone goal of the shootout on a beautiful move, and also assisted on the 1-0 tally.

Blackhawks, Predators get strong nights from young goalies

Between strong work in the AHL and elite backup production, it looked like Juuse Saros could create a perfect transition from aging Predators star Pekka Rinne. Instead, Saros stumbled a bit. It’s not like he’s been lousy (you can win with a goalie who offered up .914 and .915 save percentages, as Saros did over the past two seasons). But he hasn’t quite been the star some envisioned.

(And maybe the Predators share some mild disappointment. You’re probably not risking a first-rounder on a goalie if you’re absolutely sure that your 25-year-old option is the one, right? Maybe?)

Anyway, it’s been a bumpy start to the season for Saros, but he was fantastic on Wednesday.

The possibly more interesting thing — or at least the unexpected one — is that Kevin Lankinen continues to look reasonably competent. (Note: on Wednesday, Lankinen was mostly brilliant, not just competent.)

Now, “reasonably competent” won’t blow any minds. It won’t change the trajectory of a franchise.

That said, it could create some intrigue. Could Lankinen end up playing too well for the openly rebuilding Blackhawks? If so, would the Blackhawks want to trade him, much like the Sabres did back when Michal Neuvirth got a little too hot for their lottery odds?

Perhaps the most realistic situation is that the Blackhawks merely hope that Lankinen helps them save face. But who knows? Hockey can be strange.

Quiet start to the season for Predators’ scoring defensemen

If you look at Roman Josi‘s beautiful overtime game-winner from Tuesday, you might assume that it’s business as usual for Nashville. It’s certainly too early to make any broad judgments about systems, the aging curve, or much of anything else.

But, at least so far, the Predators’ often high-scoring defensemen are off to a cold start to 2020-21. That overtime tally represented just the second point Josi scored so far in 2020-21, and the reigning Norris winner was held pointless vs. Chicago.

By certain metrics, Ryan Ellis ranks right up there with his teammate Josi. Really, if Ellis stayed healthy, he would’ve had an argument to at least rank pretty high in Norris voting. Well, Ellis isn’t his prolific self either so far; he remained at zero goals and one assist on the season.

So far, the sputtering Predators’ offense has relied mainly on Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, and Matt Duchene.

Getting the power play in order would be a big boost for those forwards, and likely also Ellis and Josi. The Predators power play unit came up dry on Wednesday, going 0-for-4 vs. the Blackhawks.

A lack of finish?

Nights like these make you wonder if the Predators should’ve tried to get in the Patrik Laine bidding. Granted, being that the Jets traded Laine in essentially a star-for-star swap, maybe the Predators never had a chance.

It would’ve been nice to see Nashville pop up a bit more in rumors for Laine and/or Pierre-Luc Dubois, though.

Yes, the Predators have been notorious for making moves while still hitting the same walls. Some might depict another big trade as “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

But it just feels like this team needs more … oomph. Bringing back Mikael Granlund seemed logical enough — he’s a good player — yet they could really use more gamebreakers. (Should they have at least been more curious about Mike Hoffman?)

The Predators carried much of the play, especially when they turned it on against the Blackhawks.

With all due respect to a Blackhawks team that’s manufactured points this season, can the Predators afford to squander territorial advantages against better teams? Maybe the ship sailed on making major improvements to this team, yet at the moment, it feels like they’re stuck in the middle.

It wasn’t pretty, but the Predators extracted the maximum four standings points out of these last two contests vs. the Blackhawks. They’ll take it, for now, yet Nashville likely realizes there’s work to do.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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