With the way this NHL season includes MLB-style “series” between two teams, we’re going to see stretches where one team dominates the other. After losing to the Lightning once again, it’s reasonable to ask: “How much of this is about the Lightning, and how much of this boils down to the Predators being in a dark place?”
Wherever you stand on those questions, the bottom line is that the Lightning defeated the Predators again. This time, the Lightning beat the Predators 6-1, and the score wasn’t inflated by empty-netters.
Let’s get to some takeaways on what had to be a demoralizing third straight loss for Nashville. (Meanwhile, Tampa Bay extended its winning streak to six games.)
Stamkos, Lightning clearly have Predators’ number
Heading into Tuesday’s game, Lightning star Steven Stamkos scored 18 points (10G, 8 A) in 17 career games against the Predators. Stamkos was even deadlier in this one.
During a span of a bit more than a minute, Stamkos and the Lightning turned a 1-0 Predators lead into a 2-1 Lightning edge. Tampa Bay churned out three goals in about a minute-and-a-half late in the first period, really taking the wind out of Nashville’s sails.
Overall, Stamkos finished the game with two goals and one assist. In 2020-21 alone, Stamkos now has five goals and two assists for seven points in four games against the Predators.
Not shockingly, the Lightning have won all four of those games vs. the Predators, winning by a brutal combined score of 19-7.
If Predators fans want a kernel of good news, it’s this: they aren’t scheduled to face the Lightning again until March 18. Their upcoming schedule is heavy with games against the Red Wings and Blue Jackets, so we might get a better sense of how dire things are for Nashville soon.
(The key might be to frame this as “We’re not as good as the defending champs, but we can get there.” Kudos to John Hynes if he can say that with a hint of sincerity in his voice.)
Coming into this one, Juuse Saros was already fighting it. He was lucky to be 3-3-0, considering an uncomfortably retro (think Grant Fuhr on the Oilers) save percentage of .893. Things didn’t get any better on Tuesday.
Saros has now allowed 27 goals in eight games played. Over his last six appearances, Saros enjoyed one strong start (allowing one goal in a win vs. Chicago) and five that ranged from shaky (at least three goals allowed in those other five games) to awful (5+ in three of them).
In recent seasons, Saros shook off slow starts to fill out solid seasons. Maybe that pattern could continue, but the Predators don’t have the same runway to work through problems in a shortened 2020-21 campaign.
Being that the Predators drafted a goalie in the first round, it’s clear that they envisioned a future without Saros. They’re already planning for one without Pekka Rinne — eventually. Can they afford to stick with Saros in the short-term, though?
The Predators need to ride-or-die with Juuse Saros this season. Pekka Rinne is at the end of his career. The team needs to see if Saros can at least be a bridge to Yaroslav Askarov.
— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) February 10, 2021
Predators’ struggles vs. Lightning’s brilliance
Unfortunately, it’s not just about any one factor.
The Predators weren’t exactly a well-oiled machine when John Hynes took over for Peter Laviolette. Bold moves like adding Matt Duchene, and making other big trades in previous years, have produced mild results. And Hynes isn’t really getting much traction from healthy scratches.
But … again, the format of this schedule could also exaggerate struggles.
Beyond the Lightning, the Predators struggled against a possibly climbing Panthers club, and a reliably competent Hurricanes team. They’ve been pretty successful against a potentially putrid Blackhawks squad, and a pesky-but-possibly-wayward Blue Jackets team.
No doubt, it’s not easy to have high hopes for the Predators right now. They might be able to regain some confidence with this upcoming stretch. Even so, they have a long way to go.
The Lightning gave the Predators at least some idea of how far they are from being a true contender on Tuesday.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.