The future of the Nashville Predators crease made his NHL debut against the Buffalo Sabres but an unfortunate penalty made the difference.
In front of 17,217 at Bridgestone Arena, the visiting Sabres beat the Preds 4-1.
Juuse Saros, who was called up earlier in the day, made 20 saves in his first NHL action and looked impressive despite the end result.
“He was good,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said about his rookie netminder. “He seemed like everything was really in control. It was just unfortunate that [result] happened.”
“Always when you have a new situation, it gives you a little extra butterflies,” Saros said. “But I think I handled it pretty well. It didn’t [take me] over or anything.”
In the opening frame, Buffalo came out firing and Saros and the Preds weathered the storm. An Evander Kane wrister caught Saros in the mask and then, just over a minute into the contest, the Sabres went on the power play where they registered three shots on goal. Saros stood tall, setting the table for the offense to get going.
“He had a couple tough ones early,” Laviolette said. “There were a couple of shots that came in real funny and hard and he was able to make those saves. He really settled into [the game] after that.”
Mike Fisher agreed.
“I thought he played really good,” he said. “He made some good saves and looked comfortable. But we’ve got to find a way to help him.”
Midway through the period, Sam Reinhart went to the box for tripping and Fisher took advantage, tallying his fifth of the season – and third in three games – to make it 1-0.
“It’s always nice to get the first one but we’ve got to play better after that,” Fisher said.
In the second period, Nashville thought they had taken a two goal lead when Viktor Arvidsson cut across the slot and fired a shot on net that went in. It was determined that his linemate, Cody Hodgson, had interfered with Johnson. Laviolette challenged the ruling on the ice but, after review, the call on the ice stood.
At the midway point of the game, Arvidsson got his stick up into the chin area of Sabres defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo and the result was a major penalty and a game misconduct. This gave Buffalo a five minute power play and would turn the tables.
Jamie McGinn would collect the rebound off a tremendous Saros save to tie the game and then, moments later, Reinhart would add another from the high slot to make it 2-1, Buffalo.
“There wasn’t a lot going on for them up until that,” Laviolette said. “You get a possible goal but that gets overtuned and then you give up a couple on their power play. Just a tough turn of events.”
The Sabres carried that momentum into the third. Reinhart, at the top of the crease, was given the opportunity to turn and get off a shot. Saros made a sprawling save but, on his effort to control the rebound, actually tapped the puck over the goal line himself with his skate.
O’Reilly would add the empty netter to round out the scoring.
“I thought we could’ve had more gas,” Laviolette said. “The second period may have had something to do with that, playing last night, the road trip, whatever it is. I’m not making any excuses but I think we can play at a higher tempo. That’s when we’re at our best and we had more to push in that area tonight.”
Saros was Nashville’s fourth round pick in 2013. All he’s done since then is win the Rookie of the Year award in Sweden, lead Finland to a gold medal at the World Juniors and win a silver medal alongside Pekka Rinne at the World Championships. This is his first season in North America and, with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL, is 8-2-0 with an impressive 2.40 goals-against average.
The Predators will try to get back in the win column when the Arizona Coyotes come to town on Tuesday night.
Puck drops at 7:00pm Central.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jeremy K. Gover