The NHL is back in full swing with the Qualifying rounds under way. Sunday will host three more qualifying games and two round robin games. One of the Qualifying matchups will be between the Arizona Coyotes and the Nashville Predators. These two teams will see the puck drop at around 2:00 PM Eastern time.
Arizona finished out the regular season with a record of 33-29-8, which has them sitting in eleventh place of the Western Conference. The Coyotes had lost back to back games before the season came to a pause. Now with a healthy lineup, Arizona will look to earn their way back into the round of sixteen with a series win over Nashville.
The Predators earned a record of 35-26-8 throughout this season. Nashville is currently sitting in sixth place of the Western Conference. The Predators were on a strong three game winning streak before the season came to a halt. Nashville will look to use that momentum as well as their win in their exhibition game to propel them to a series win.
These two teams had their ups and downs this season and will look to forget all that coming into this series. The Coyotes were flustered with injuries this season, while the Predators could not find that offensive consistency. With extra time behind them now and a solid training camp, I expect both teams to come out strong in this game to set the pace and prove themselves.
The first matchup of the season series between these teams was on October 17 in Arizona. Ryan Ellis earned a solid two assists for the Predators, but it was not enough. Phil Kessel scored twice the Coyotes, while Clayton Keller, Nick Schmaltz and Derek Stepan all earned two assists. Darcy Kuemper stopped 23 of the 25 shots he faced in route to a 5-2 win.
The second game of the season series shifted back to Nashville on December 23. Alex Goligoski earned two assists, while Antti Raanta stopped 38 of the 41 shots he faced, but it was not enough. Roman Josi scored a goal and an assist for Nashville. Pekka Rinne turned away 26 of the 28 shots he faced as the Predators bounced back with a 3-2 win.
These two teams split the season series, each winning their home game. The two teams finished out the season pretty similarly record wise, which should help lead to an even series in this one. The Coyotes were able to dominate when they were healthy back in October, but will also be facing a healthy Predators squad.
Arizona put up a solid power play throughout this season. The Coyotes were able to capitalize on 41 of their 214 power play chances, which is good for a 19.2 percent success rate. Arizona’s penalty kill was even stronger this season. The Coyotes held opponents to 34 power play goals on 197 opportunities, which is an 82.7 percent penalty kill.
The Predators special teams were anything but this season. Nashville’s power play was able to score 39 goals on 226 chances, which is a 17.3 percent power play rate. The Predators penalty kill was not any better. Nashville allowed their opponents to score 51 power play goals on 213 opportunities, which is a 76.1 percent kill rate.
The Coyotes hold a massive advantage in this matchup on special teams. Nashville has struggled a lot on special teams the last couple of seasons and it led to their downfall against Dallas in last season’s playoffs. Arizona will look to use this to their advantage early to get a couple of goals on the power play. If the Coyotes can dominate on special teams, I think it could help them move on in this series.
The Coyotes have two really good options in net for this series with Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta. I believe that Kuemper will get the nod in Game 1. He earned a save percentage of .928 and a 2.22 GAA in 29 appearances this season. If Raanta plays though, he put up a solid .921 save percentage with a GAA of 2.63 through 33 appearances this season.
Nashville also has a decision to make in net for Game 1 of this series. The Predators could go with their long time starter Pekka Rinne, who posted a .895 save percentage and a GAA of 3.17 this season. Nashville could go with Juuse Saros as well, who put up a save percentage of .914 with a 2.70 GAA this season. Both goalies struggled at times this season to find any momentum though, which could be a problem.
While Rinne has more playoff experience, I think that the Predators will go with Saros in Game 1. Rinne has struggled throughout this season and has not had a memorable last two playoff runs. If Saros struggles though, Rinne could come out hungry to earn that job back. Arizona is in a much better position with goaltending in this series though.
With the buildup of hockey back, I expect this to be a strong matchup to open up Sunday. These are two solid teams that could make a shocking playoff run. For Game 1 of this matchup though, I like the Coyotes a bit more. They have less question marks in net and on special teams, which could let them get their footing back earlier.
BetOnline has Nashville listed as a -123 against the money line in this game. This implies that the Predators will win this game around 55.2 percent of the time. The Coyotes are a tempting team in this game and as underdogs, I see a lot of value around them. Arizona is back up and healthy, which is what made them struggle before the season came to a pause. I expect the Coyotes to pick back up quickly and earn a big Game 1 win.