The 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs are almost here. In this pandemic delayed conclusion of the season, 24 teams have been selected based on the winning percentage to see who advances to the playoffs. This preview covers the series with the Arizona Coyotes vs Nashville Predators.
Arizona Coyotes vs Nashville Predators
These two teams met twice this season, splitting the games. They were scheduled to meet for a third game but that was cancelled when the regular season was suspended. The winning team will have the opportunity to face a team from the round-robin for the round of 16.
Will the goaltending tandem the Arizona Coyotes possess reign? Will their advantage in special teams decide a key game or two? Or, will the Predators experience of participating in the playoffs for the last five years come into play? Will Nashville’s .565 winning percentage during the shortened season give them the advantage?
Let’s answer these and other questions as this qualifying series begins.
When healthy, the Coyotes have a perfect goaltending tandem of Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta. They also have Adin Hill who can fill in if needed. The goalies combined for a 33-29-8 record with a .923 save percentage and a 2.46 goals-against-average. The trio had four shutouts between them. When compared to Nashville’s goaltending tandem of Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros it becomes clear that the Coyotes have the advantage in net. The Nashville duo combined for a 35-26-8 record. Their save percentage was .905 with a goals-against-average of 2.92. They had seven shutouts for the year.
In such a short five-game series, it is unclear if the Coyotes’ Kuemper will get the start in all games. Don’t forget these players have not hit the ice since March and are getting back into playing shape over a condensed period of time. While Raanta performed well, if Kuemper had not been injured he would have been in net against the Preds in their second game on December 23, 2019.
In the end, the Coyotes have the obvious advantage in net. Whether it is Kuemper or Raanta, they exceed what Rinne and Saros can bring to the table.
With Rinne’s decline in play Saros has been playing more minutes and deservedly so. His 17-12-4 record, while similar to Rinne’s, shows he’s more than likely going to be the starter in this series. He accumulated a .914 save percentage compared to Rinne’s weak .895. Saros also had a superior 2.70 goals-against-average exceeding Rinne’s 3.17.
This could be the key factor to this series. The Coyotes club far exceeds in this category. They were ranked 18th in the NHL with a power-play success rate of 19.2 percent. Nashville was down to 25th with 17.3 percent. On the penalty kill, the Arizona team was exceptional ranking fifth with a 82.7 percent kill ratio. The Predators were a less than sparkling 76.1 percent, which put them 29th in the league.
When this series is concluded, special teams may very well be a deciding factor. If Nashville can’t improve upon its special teams play, the Coyotes will be using that weakness to their advantage.
The Predators need to stay out of the penalty box to avoid being on the penalty kill, which is one of their obvious weaknesses. The other factor may be, can the Coyotes power play be used to its fullest extent? That must include some scoring from healed Phil Kessel, newly contracted Clayton Keller, or sparkplug Conor Garland.
The Predators are superior in this category. They have seen postseason play for five consecutive seasons compared to the Coyotes not participating past the regular season since 2012. Nashville has the playoff experience needed to move forward in this qualifying round. They collected a .565 winning percentage this shortened season compared to the Arizona percentage of .529. Nashville was playing very well before the break with a 6-3-1 record over their last 10 games. Arizona was not playing especially well with just a 5-5 record over their last 10 games.
All of that can be a wash since this is a new beginning for both teams. While Nashville finished sixth in the conference, it was still too close to determine if they would have made the playoffs had the season not been suspended. It was that close. Between the sixth and 10th conference teams only .007 separated their point totals at the time.
If playoff experience matters, Nashville will have the advantage here.
There are many factors that will determine the winner of this series. Both teams will be rusty with just a short time to prepare for important games. This is nowhere near a normal training camp for players. They will jump right into it without much time to work out kinks in their games.
With the neutral site being used, there is no home-ice advantage. Arizona has a clear advantage in net and on special teams. Nashville has the experience and has been to the playoffs quite frequently of late.
Putting things into perspective, if the Coyotes goaltending is as excellent as advertised they should win this series. If Nashville gets sloppy and takes too many penalties, the Coyotes can score some power-play goals to add to their advantage.
In the end, as is the case in most post-season contests, goaltending will rule.
Arizona in five games.