The Predators fell to the Coyotes in 4 games after outshooting and outplaying Arizona for 90% of the series. Ultimately, unforced errors and a lack of depth scoring ended the Predators season, which were the same problems that haunted them throughout the regular season.
The Coyotes were lead by Goaltender, Darcy Kuempur. who was key in each of their 3 wins. Kuempur was battered by shots throughout the series, facing 52 in game 4. A lot of his success was a result of his own play but some was a result of the Predators lack of scoring from players outside of the first line.
The Predators dominated and pulled out the win in game 2. While they outplayed the Coyotes in each of the 4 games, and were by far the better team, they could not find a way to win. As former Predators Goalie, Chris Mason, said on the Fox Sports postgame show, great teams find a way to win even if they have been outplayed.
Game 1 started with Nashville generating many scoring chances in the first 5 minutes of the game. Unfortunately for the Preds, the Coyotes scored a fluky goal which bounced off of the stick of Kyle Turris and the back of Matt Duchene before jumping over Juuse Saros for an early goal. This gave Arizona momentum as they finished the period with 2 more first period goals. Nashville was ultimately unable to come back and lost 4-3. The story line from game 1 was the Predators 7 penalties. Had they started their comeback earlier and avoided penalties, Nashville easily could have tied the game 4-4.
In Game 2, the Predators played well throughout the game. They scored 2 first period goals, 1 in the second, and 1 in the 3rd. They won 4-2 with both of the Coyotes goals coming in the final minute. Nashville was able to score early which is critical to their success.
Again, the Predators outplayed the Coyotes in Game 3. The Predators had double the shots of Arizona for much of the game and had much more offensive zone time. Nashville tied the game at 1 in the 2nd period and in the 3rd they thought they had taken the lead. Kyle Turris scored to give the Predators the advantage but the goal was called back after Matt Duchene was deemed offside. This left Predators fans and media upset as this was Duchene's second mistake of the series. He owned up to his mistake and said tha he thought he was onside at the time. The Coyotes then took advantage of the disallowed goal and scored 6 minutes later. Arizona took game 3, 4-1, after being outshot 38-28.
Game 4 was one of the Predators best because despite a deficit, they fought back. Juuse Saros showed a weakness on the second goal after he struggled to play the puck. Until the 3rd period, this game was strikingly similar to the other 3. Nashville was scored on first, outshot the Coyotes, and struggled to put away chances. The Predators trailed 3-2 for much of the 3rd period but were able to score with just 31 seconds remaining. The goal was scored by Filip Forsberg and assisted by Ryan Ellis, two of Nashville's best players throughout the qualifying round. Nashville's best player in the series, Viktor Arvidsson, unfortunately left the game in the 3rd period after taking a shot to the ribs. Arvidsson contributed each game and scored a goal in game 4. The Predators were unable to pull it out in overtime despite generating some good chances. Nashville lost 4-3 even after outshooting the Coyotes, 52-31.
1. Offense is still the problem
The first line of Forsberg, Johansen, and Arvidsson, appeared to be the Predators only chance of scoring throughout the series. Whenever they left the ice, it felt that Nashville could not score or generate high quality chances. The second line of Duchene, Granlund, and Turris SHOULD be among the best second lines in the league. Each player has talent but they struggle together and get paid too much for what they provide to the team. I think the second line will be broken up over the offseason and Nashville may move on from both Turris and Granlund.
The 3rd and 4th lines also struggled to create opportunities. At least Nick Bonino and Austin Watson played a solid series and fought throughout. Rocco Grimaldi did not provide the same magic as he did in the 2019 playoffs but his line played OK. Surprisingly, Coach John Hynes made no changes to the lineup throughout the series.
2. The Predators need Elite Goaltending
The Predators run to the Stanley Cup in 2017 was in large part a result of Pekka Rinne and his incredible play. This season however, Juuse Saros had his first playoff start and played the whole series. While Saros didn't play badly, he did not exactly help the Predators out. He made a couple big saves in game 4 but did not save Arizona's mediocre shots that never should have gone in. Without elite goaltending, it is unclear whether the Predators can consistently compete in the playoffs. I stand by what I wrote when analyzing the goalie situation, Pekka Rinne should have played against Arizona.
This series makes me question if Saros is a playoff caliber goaltender, despite how well he played in the regular season. I still think he can continue to get better and eventually lead the Predators to great things as he is just 25 years old.
3. The Predators must score first
In every game, it was made evident that the Predators must score first. They struggled greatly when trailing and seemed like a different team when down a goal. This is a huge problem that the Peter Laviolette coached Predators did not have.
Overall, the series was poor and too similar to the past two seasons. There was, however, great improvement from the top players specifically Matt Duchene, who played very well in game 4. Throughout the series, Nashville's best players were Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, and Ryan Ellis. Unsurprisingly, Ryan Johansen and Roman Josi also had good performances. Despite this, the top players are not getting enough help and that must change.
After their 2019 playoff loss to the Dallas Stars, GM David Poile said that the 2020 season was the final season before the team would make serious changes if they lost. This season is clearly unprecedented but serious changes are still upcoming.
After the 5 month pause from Covid-19, the Predators season ended in unfortunate fashion. The Predators simply did not find a way to win, despite outplaying their opponent for the majority of the series.