The Arizona Coyotes and Nashville Predators have battled through their first two games of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. The two teams met in just two regular season games with the last game being scrubbed by the pandemic. Each team won a game. The same results have happened in the series, so these two teams are evenly matched. The performance of young Clayton Keller becomes of paramount importance as this series progresses.
Clayton Keller Needs to Keep Performing
The Arizona Coyotes signed Keller to an eight-year $57.2 million deal on September 4, 2019 taking affect starting next season. He’s already showing his worth much more than during the 2019-20 season. In the two games against the Predators in the qualifying series he has two goals.
On this late goal by Keller, he walked in alone and scored it five-hole against Juuse Saros. While is was too little too late, it shows that Keller is starting to exhibit the talents former general manager John Chayka saw in him when he signed him to a long-term contract.
Keller also showed off some not too characteristic physical play early in the game when he checked Matt Duchene near the boards. He may be pumped up to be playing in his first postseason game in the NHL.
Key to the Qualifying Series
The Nashville Predators have shown twice that they are capable of coming back. Don’t discount their ability to come from behind. The Coyotes on the other hand have had a bad habit of losing an early lead as they displayed in the first game.
While it was thought that the key to this series was goaltending, it hasn’t really been true as of yet. With 13 goals being scored in the first two games, the offence is taking charge. The Preds have the advantage on power play goals with three compared to just one by Arizona, which was scored by Keller.
It was thought that special teams would be an important factor with Nashville’s anemic power play success rate prior to this series was just 17.3 percent. They are now 3 for 9 in that department in the postseason. Arizona has just one power play goal out of nine attempts.
If goaltending is analyzed, the Preds’ Saros has a .908 save percentage while Darcy Kuemper has just a .894 save percentage. It’s just been two games, yet goaltending has not been a big factor.
The other goaltending issue was the absence of backup goalie Antti Raanta missing from the bench and in his place was Adin Hill. After the game, Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet stated something happened during warm-ups. One broadcast showed pre-game footage where Raanta was struck in the mask by some friendly fire. With Raanta’s possible injury for Game Three, will that force Kuemper to go back-to-back after already playing two games in three days? Another goaltending injury would be devastating for the Desert Dogs.
Keller Getting More Ice Time
As a player’s performance level increases, his ice should also increase. During the regular season, Keller only averaged 16:18 of ice time. In the first two postseason games he is averaging 18:26 of ice time. If he can continue to make a difference on the offence, he will be the asset the Coyotes hoped he would be when they drafted him seventh overall in 2016. While a smaller player, his speed is a definite plus for an already fast team.
He may need to bulk up a bit to perform better in the NHL. He seems to get pushed around a lot and falls down even more for some reason. Still, his shot is excellent, and when he’s performing as a playmaker, his worth exceeds expectations.
Keller Needs to Show Dominance in Next Game
If Keller is to be in Arizona for eight more years, this is his time to shine in the desert. He has the skills to do so, and when the Coyotes hit the ice on Wednesday in Edmonton, Keller showing up in the score sheet will be a welcome sight. He was demoted to the third line in Game One, but has shown it doesn’t matter which line he’s skating with… he still needs to help the offence out.
With the series tied at one game each, Game Three becomes a pivotal contest. If Keller continues to play at the pace he has thus far, the Coyotes should be victorious.
When a team takes the first game of a five-game series, the odds of winning the series are 82 percent. Let’s see if Keller and the Coyotes can pull together a good effort in the next game to put the Predators on the ropes.