Hockey is back on tap and in a big way, which means there’s a lot to cover in a relatively short period of time. It’s time to get on with the show and sum up the Stanley Cup Playoffs Qualifying Round matchups.
Up next, the Arizona Coyotes and Nashville Predators.
To say the Coyotes plunged themselves into a state of pure drama would be an understatement. After former general manager John Chayka quite mere days ago, Steve Sullivan stepped in as GM and will enter the bubble. Prior to the theatrics, the Coyotes were on pace to miss the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season.
The Predators looked to be rolling early in the regular season, but October was not kind. They canned head coach Peter Laviolette and replaced him with John Hynes, going 16-11-1 after the change. They are a deep team with plenty of physicality up front, plus they own the faceoff circle and drive possession numbers.
Part of that possession comes from tabling one of the deepest defensive units in the NHL. A top four of Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, and Dante Fabbro has all the tools, but the Predators allowed far more shots than anyone would’ve expected. Their defensive zone issues made life harder on goalie Pekka Rinne, who might’ve lost the starting gig to Jusse Saros.
The Coyotes have been among the worst teams in the NHL when it comes to goal-scoring for a long time. They’ve been in the bottom 10 since 2012-2013, although this season they pushed the numbers to 2.71 goals per game – still just 23rd overall but a small improvement.
Like the Islanders of New York, the Coyotes of Arizona play a team game. They tied Columbus for the third-best goals against average in the league and made a strong defensive showing as long as they had either Darcy Kuemper or Antti Raanta in the crease. When it was up to Adin Hill, like it was for nine games in the beginning of 2020, things kind of fell apart.
The Coyotes need goaltending to win a series. They needed it last time they won a playoff series, when Mike Smith was between the pipes for Phoenix.
The Predators have to be the favourites and their depth may be too much for Arizona to overcome. With a dozen players with at least 30 points in the regular season, Nashville puts together an offensive attack that might have the Coyotes on their heels. But they’ll need more from their top stars, like Matt Duchene, if they want to really press the advantage.