If there was one thing the Nashville Predators took away from the 2020-21 season above everything, it’s presumably the importance of roster depth.
The Predators cycled through 35 skaters and three goalies last year, and they played an NHL-high 12 rookies.
This season, Nashville has been fortunate to keep most of its roster healthy and intact. But when it was announced less than an hour before Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings at the Little Caesars Arena that goalie Juuse Saros (non-COVID illness) and defensemen Mattias Ekholm (non-COVID illness) and Matt Benning (upper-body injury) would not be playing, the Predators were prepared.
While David Rittich, Philippe Myers and Ben Harpur are no Saros, Ekholm or Benning, they stepped right into the lineup, and the Predators didn’t miss a beat.
“Rittich was awesome,” Predators captain Roman Josi said. “He was great, he made a lot of good saves. Meyers and Harpur, they played great. [It was a] really solid game from them, and I think that’s one of our strengths. Obviously, the guys who didn’t play are a huge part of our team, and it’s hard if you’re missing guys like that, but to step up like that and play like that, it gives us a good chance to win.”
In just his third start with the Predators, Rittich turned away 14 of 16 shots and picked up his second win of the year. It’s the third time in his four appearances he’s allowed three goals or fewer.
The 29-year-old signed a one-year deal in the offseason to backup Saros to allow 24-year-old Connor Ingram more time to develop in the American Hockey League. Rittich played in 19 games last season with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames, and his two seasons of starting experience with the Calgary Flames from 2018-2020 where he compiled a 51-26-11 record was enough to persuade the Predators that he would make a solid No. 2 option.
Ingram, who only played in five games last season after missing most of the year after checking himself into the NHL’s player assistance program, backed up Rittich on Tuesday.
“David, you know, is going to be a guy that's going to have to play for us whether [Saros] is out, or you know back-to-backs, or a spot start we need,” Preds coach John Hynes said. “You need two goalies to win in this league.”
Plugging in Harpur and Myers allowed Mark Borowiecki to slide up to Ekholm’s spot on the second pair next to Alex Carrier. None of the Predators defensemen had a minus rating against Detroit, and they combined for seven points, nine shots on goal, nine blocked shots and 11 hits.
Harpur, who hadn’t played with Nashville since Nov. 5, had 13:20 of ice time and he played 42 seconds on the penalty kill. He had one blocked shot and also dropped the gloves with Givani Smith in the second period.
Myers, who had only played in eight of Nashville’s previous 24 games, saw 15:50 of ice time and 42 seconds on the penalty kill on the third pair next to Harpur. He also blocked four shots — a season high — and added two hits.
Hynes noted a little over a week ago that he wanted to get Myers into the lineup more often but in the meantime had the 6-foot-5 defenseman working with coaches on tweaking his puck skills, stick handling and skating.
“We have good depth,” Hynes continued. “It's nice to see [Harpur] come back after he had the conditioning stint in Milwaukee. And you know Myers has done a good job of staying ready, and working hard, and you know he's done all the meetings and practices and everything, so he clearly understands what's going on.
“I thought overall, it was a strong team effort. Like we said, we feel like the guys that we're inserting into the lineup are certainly prepared to play, they’re NHL players, and they did a good job.”
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