Back out west we go for the next matchup as the seeded Nashville Predators will take on seeded Arizona Coyotes. A very intriguing matchup as we have a young and hungry Coyotes team going up against the experienced Predators.
Two teams separated by four points when the season came to a halt. With the Predators you have a team with loads of experience and who came within two wins of hoisting the Stanley Cup a few years back. Then you have the Coyotes who are making their first playoff appearance since 2012.
Can the young Coyotes pull off the upset of the Preds? A case can certainly be made for them to do it.
In the two meetings between these teams this season we had an even 1-1 split. The Coyotes took the first matchup at home way back in October in a game where Phil Kessel scored his first two goals as a Coyote. The next matchup came two months later down in Nashville as the Preds squeaked out a 3-2 win. Two close matchups should set up for a pretty great qualifying series. This one could be one of the closest ones and a very tough one to pick a winner.
Nashville Predators(35-26-8,78 PTS)
First off Nashville is an incredible city and its a damn shame we won’t be getting any home playoff games for the Preds. Their fans are insane and they create a fantastic playoff atmosphere. They have been a top team in the west for the last 6-7 years but have not been able to bring home the big one. They got to the Cup Final but ran into the Penguins who beat them thanks to a quick whistle. They struggled at times this year and we even saw them say bye bye to head coach Peter Laviolette. Now with John Hynes behind the bench they will look to lean on their veterans to help get them back to the Stanley Cup Final.
Up front the talent is there for the Preds, lead by Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Johansen to name a few. They should have no problem putting the puck in the net against this Coyotes team. They have plenty of depth which will cause problems for the young Yotes and their experience will definitely come into play.
On the backend they have six solid defenseman that can shut anybody down when they are on their game. Ryan Ellis always seems to play his best come playoff time and Mattias Ekholm is a workhorse who will play big minutes. Then you add in the young upcoming star in Dante Fabbro and they are going to cause problems for the opposing teams.
In net I think its the biggest question mark, Pekka Rinne isn’t getting younger and we have seen signs of him slowing down. While he has had great moments in his career he can never seem to get it done when it matters most. From what I watched of the Preds this year Juuse Saros had been the better goaltender and I fully expect him to see time in this series. That being said, if Rinne is on his game he is still one of the best goalies in the league. It will be very interesting to see what happens with the goaltending situation in Nashville.
Arizona Coyotes(33-29-8, 74 PTS)
A bit of a surprise this season as they started off pretty strong before coming back to reality. Then they went out and made the biggest move of the season when they acquired Taylor Hall from the Devils. Yes, believe it or not that did happen this past season. They were very much alive in the playoff hunt before the season stopped and now will have any opportunity to make some noise. The lay-off could be very beneficial for them as they weren’t going in the best of directions before the season stopped.
Led by Taylor Hall and Phil “The Hot Dog Eating Thrill” Kessel, the Yotes have some firepower on offense. Add in young studs like Barrett Hayton, Clayton Keller, and Lawson Crouse this team should be setup for success for the next few years. They also have some decent depth guys like Michael Grabner and Nick Schmaltz. If these guys can apply the pressure to the Preds defense they have a real shot at pulling off the upset.
Their defense isn’t top tier but it’s also not too shabby. With Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Jakob Chychrun leading the way, those two can be a tough pair to go up against. They have the veteran presence to go along with those guys as well in Jason Demers and Alex Goligoski. My biggest concern for their defense is if the veteran guys will be able to keep up with the speed and physicality that the Predators are going to bring. I don’t believe in those guys enough to play at the level they used to where they will be impacting the series enough in a positive way.
Now to the goaltending, they’ve got a solid one two punch in Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper. But like some of the other teams it’s going to come down to which one they are going to rely on to get the job done. The problem when you don’t have one goaltender that clearly is significantly better than the other you have decisions to make. Both guys in my opinion are good goaltenders not great. I don’t trust either of them to be able to steal a game let alone a series. Now sure one of them can get hot and rattle off some wins but I don’t think they are reliable enough to trust. I think Raanta will be the one who gets the nod but I’m wondering how short of a leash he will get since it’s only a best of 5.
My head is telling me to pick the experience of Predators here but my gut is telling me the Yotes are going to be sneaky good. Nashville clearly has the advantage in most categories but a young team with little pressure on them can be very dangerous. The Predators window is getting closer to closing and they have tons of pressure on them to make a deep run. Also, this only being a best of 5 makes things way more interesting for this series because there is such little room for error. Always go with your gut folks, i’m taking the Yotes to shock the Preds and move on to the round of 16.
Season Series Image-AtoZSports
Preds Image 1-Predlines.com
Preds Image 2-NHL.com
Yotes Image 1-SI.com
Yotes Image 2-The Hockey News