The NHL officially postponed their season on March 12th, due to Covid-19. In the following months, they outlined an in-depth plan to return to play. Nearly 5 months after the postponement, on August 1st, the NHL will resume play with the Playoff Qualifying Round.
The Predators will face the Coyotes in Game 1 on Sunday, August 2nd at 1:00pm CT. The series is a best-of-5 and the winner will advance to the playoffs.
After 3 weeks of training camp, the Predators flew to their designated hub city, Edmonton, on Sunday, July 26th.
Prior to the series, the Predators will play an exhibition game against the Dallas Stars. This game is on Thursday, July 30th at 3:00pm and will likely be treated like a real game by the Predators. You can listen to the game here.
The Predators vs Coyotes series, along with the other series, will be unprecedented and unpredictable.
The Predators and Coyotes have a mixed history with both teams winning 5 of the last 10 matchups. However, the Coyotes did defeat the Predators in 5 games in the 2012 playoffs. Most recently, the Predators beat the coyotes 3-2 on December 23rd as Roman Josi recorded a goal and an assist.
Arizona acquired all-star forward, Taylor Hall, in December. Since then, the Coyotes have had a record of 14-22 and they have not gotten the expected impact from Hall. The Coyotes offense as a whole is a threat but it is not up to par with many Western Conference opponents.
When compared head to head, Predators players lead Coyotes players in all major categories including shots, goals, and shutouts. The Coyotes have given up just 187 goals compared to the Predators 217 though they have scored just 195 compared to the Predators 215.
As we approach the return, there are many questions facing the Predators. The biggest question is who will start in goal to begin the series. While Juuse Saros had a strong finish to the 2019-20 season and was playing extremely well, Pekka Rinne has started every Predators playoff game since 2010 and has much needed experience. After listening to members allowed in the Predators training camp, it seems like Saros has the edge as of now and has played better throughout camp.
A few other questions include the 3rd defensive pairing and the attacking lines. My predicted lineup for the series:
Forsberg - Johansen - Arvidsson
Turris - Duchene - Granlund
Grimaldi - Bonino - Smith
Watson - Sissons - Jarnkrok
Josi - Ellis
Ekholm - Fabbro
Hamhuis - Tinordi
Starting Goaltender: Juuse Saros
Notably, the practice lines and my predicted lines include the return of JoFA (Johansen, Forsberg, Arvidsson). This line was crucial in the Predators Stanley Cup run as well as in many playoff series in years past.
The second line of Turris, Duchene, and Granlund, has a great chance of surprising many and redeeming themselves. While Granlund had a good regular season, Turris and Duchene did not play up to their own expectations and this return to play is a great opportunity to change that. This line could be the difference in the return as most teams place most of their attention on the Predators 1st line.
The 3rd line was one of the best throughout the regular season. Bonino recorded 18 goals and 17 assists in 67 games and contributed a lot. Smith was able to get on a hot streak and score many goals in a few games, hopefuly he can do the same in the playoffs. Grimaldi, a standout in last year's playoffs, has defied odds and plays unlike most other players. If Grimaldi can continue forcing turnovers and generating breakaways, the 3rd line can perform well in Edmonton.
In addition to the 2nd line, the 4th line has the ability to surprise many people and perform well. Watson and Sissons have played very well in the playoffs in the past and they could continue that this season. Jarnkrok can also score goals and is very good when on a hot streak.
Unfortunately for Nashville, they have had the same problems for multiple seasons. Some of the biggest problems are the power play and the lack of performance from big players in big games. Below are keys to Nashville advancing past Arizona:
1. Start fast
Since the series is just 5 games, a fast start is paramount. The Predators have struggled with that in many games and they require a late surge to win. If they lose the first game, they are already at a huge disadvantage, more so then in a 7 game series. Because of the importance of a fast start, this makes Saros in goal more likely because he seems much more consistent early in games.
2. Big Players must show up and Put Away their chances
The most skillful players on the Predators, such as Duchene, Forsberg, Johansen, and Arvidsson, must play well. Duchene and Johansen need to forget about the regular season and play at the level we all know they can. Arvidsson, who suffered from multiple injuries, will hopefully be completely healthy and ready to return to old form. Forsberg, who always seems to play well in the playoffs, needs to continue scoring goals and leading the Predators attack. Additionally, the Predators have to put away chances when they get them. For example, if they get a 5 v 3 power play, they must convert. I think Arvidsson is prime for a breakout and will perform well against Arizona and beyond.
3. Avoid unforced errors
Unforced errors are often the reason for close losses. An unforced error such as a turnover in the defensive end can cost the Predators the series. At many times during the season, the Predators shot themselves in the foot and they must avoid that in the playoffs.
If the Predators can pick up where they left off during the season, they have a good chance of advancing past Arizona. My prediction for the Predators is that they will beat the Coyotes in 4 games and win the first series of the playoffs.
As of July 27th, the NHL reported 0 positive tests among the over 800 players tested. This is very promising news approaching the NHL's return to play.
The Predators return is just days away and excitement is building. I will cover the series in depth as we get closer to the return.