Something was a little bit off this morning when I sat down in the stands at the MSOE Kern Center for practice. The Milwaukee Admirals were all on the ice. Jonas Gunnarsson was in one net. And there was one of Scott Ford’s practice skill toys was stationed in the opposite one. There wasn’t a Juuse Saros to be found.
As it happens, the Nashville Predators have once again decided to recall Saros from the Admirals while reassigning Marek Mazanec to the AHL. This is the third time that the two have swapped places this season and we’re three months in.
Since the previous occasion that the two have switched Saros has been the more active of the two with the Admirals. Dare I say it. The 21-year old Saros, in those recent games, has almost looked human: 2-1-0-0 record, 2.36 goals against average, and a 0.911 save percentage. The brunt of that looking human for a change came mainly down to his last outing which saw him allow 4 goals from 25 shots in a 5-4 win over the San Antonio Rampage.
As for Mazanec, he has only had a single appearance since his last stint with the Admirals. It was a relief effort in a game that the Predators came out flat against the Dallas Stars and lost 5-2. That said, Mazanec may have been the lone bright spot to that game. He looked his typical self when playing with confidence. He was active around his net, moving pucks out of the zone, and looked very locked in to shooters on a night that the Stars chased Pekka Rinne from net. The only goal he allowed came from a Stars power-play that saw the Predators defensively collapse and allow Tyler Seguin to be wide open for a one-timer at his sweet spot on the low left wing circle. Beyond that, Mazanec had made 18/19 in the saves department in that game. He has been stationary since.
One would wonder just how much this sort of perpetual motion of up and down would hurt more than help the two goaltenders. Having been around the rink today I decided to ask Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason what his views are on the goaltending situation the organization finds itself in.
“So far we haven’t seen anything negative from either one of them,” said Evason. “I don’t anticipate any negativity from [Mazanec] coming – certainly nothing from [Saros]. It’s what Nashville wants to do and it is our job to make it the best situation that we possibly can. And we’re going to do that. If the player has the right attitude he’s going to give himself an opportunity to have success within the role that they’ve been dictated to.”
And, when asked if these repeated goaltending moves are down to maximizing the amount of minutes both are receiving to keep sharp, Evason said:
We’re trying to get both guys as much time as we possibly can in the net. They’re both very comparable goalies, clearly. They both had NHL games. [Mazanec] was there for a long time. He can play in the NHL. [Saros] can play in the NHL. It maybe looks a bit unique but it is no different than when a player like Pontus Åberg gets called up and he’s not going to get used up there – so he needs to come back down here and play hockey. Same as when we send a guy to Cincinnati. If he is not going to play here then he needs an opportunity to play. So, we send them to Cincinnati and they play games. They come back. They’re ready, confident. And that’s what we’re doing with the goalies.
As much as a frequency as seeing Mazanec and Saros rotate is feeling like – that from Evason puts better perspective on it. There isn’t any long-term ill effects that we have exactly seen out of either, yet.
If anything Mazanec and the Predators can benefit from the process should the added game-time finally see him get some NHL starts and quality NHL starting performances through confidence building outings in the AHL. He’ll get the minutes Nashville aren’t willing to give him right now but, for his last effort in net, he is getting more of it together than the times prior to that.
For Saros, you would prefer to see him logging games to keep his development process going. But there is still a lot of perspective in learning the NHL lifestyle and what it means to be a pro at that level that he can get while on these recall stints. He is an astonishingly mature person as it is. If he is to be groomed for an eventual big role with the organization some of these times spent just seeing what it takes to be an NHL caliber player on and off the ice can have benefits that won’t be known until years from now. He hasn’t shown negative signs in the spurts that see him go up, not play, get returned to the AHL, and play. So, these moments aren’t negative on him either.
Thoughts on how the Nashville Predators have been cycling the back-up role this season? Do you feel it would better for the Predators to look for a better fit at back-up goaltender if they have so little confidence in Mazanec? Should the Predators end up keeping Saros up or will this back-and-forth persist all season?
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