2020 NHL Playoffs – Qualifying Round – NSH vs. ARI

Updated: July 27, 2020 at 12:27 pm by Brock Seguin

After starting the 2020 season at 19-15-7, the Nashville Predators relieved Peter Laviolette of his duties and replaced him with John Hynes. Under Hynes, the team was 16-11-1 and will face the Arizona Coyotes in the qualifying round for a chance to earn playoff birth for the sixth straight season.

As for the Coyotes, they come with no shortage of distractions after John Chayka terminated his contract as General Manager on Sunday. They have missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons but come into the qualifying round with their most talented roster in years.

During the regular season, the Predators and Coyotes split the series with one win apiece, with Arizona outscoring Nashville 7-to-5.

Schedule

Game 1: Sunday, August 2nd @ 2:00 PM ET
Game 2: Tuesday, August 4th @ 2:30 PM ET
Game 3: Wednesday, August 5th @ 2:30 PM ET

if necessary:
Game 4 – Friday, August 7th
Game 5 – Sunday, August 9th


Record

36-26-8 (16th)

33-29-8 (22nd)

GF/PG

3.07 (16th)

2.71 (23rd)

GA/PG

3.10 (t-19th)

2.61 (3rd)

5v5 SV%

.920 (t-12th)

.929 (4th)

PP%

17.3% (t-24th)

19.2% (18th)

PK%

76.1% (t-28th)

82.7% (5th)

CF%

50.95 (10th)

48.37 (24th)

5v5

Projected Lineups

Forsberg – Johansen – Arvidsson

Turris – Duchene – Granlund

Grimaldi – Bonino – Smith

Jarnkrok – Sissons – Watson

Josi – Ellis

Ekholm – Fabbro

Hamhuis – Holzer

Hall – Dvorak – Garland

Soderberg – Schmaltz – Kessel

Crouse – Stepan – Keller

Hinostroza – Richardson – Fischer

Ekman-Larsson – Demers

Chychrun – Goligoski

Hjalmarsson – Lyubushkin

The Predators are largely the same group that was knocked out in the first round last year. The one key difference is Matt Duchene, which makes the Predators a lot deeper and will allow them to match-up better during the postseason grind. Duchene was a part of the Columbus Blue Jackets team that upset the Tampa Bay Lightning in last year’s playoffs–he was a point-per-game player, posting 10 points (5G / 5A) in 10 games, a boost that will be welcomed by Nashville. They averaged just 2.0 goals per game in their six-game loss to the Stars in last year’s playoffs.

At 5v5, the Predators mixed and matched their lines pretty frequently over the season but went back to a familiar look throughout training camp. A line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson is a trio that has spent over 1,160 5v5 minutes together over the last three seasons. They’ve compiled an impressive 56.97 CorsiFor%, 53.66 ScoringChancesFor%, and 54.68 ExpectedGoalsFor% together.

As much as Nashville needs their top-6 to produce offensively, their bottom-6 is among the deepest in the NHL and will be relied upon to beat Arizona’s bottom-6 and provide plenty of secondary scoring.

For Arizona, the Taylor Hall experiment hasn’t exactly been a resounding success. He scored just 10 goals with 17 assists (27 points) in 35 games after being acquired from New Jersey. The acquisition of Phil Kessel didn’t go great either, he had just 38 points (14G / 24A) in 70 games, the lowest point total for him since 2008.

While the Coyotes gave up the third-fewest goals against this season, that doesn’t paint the entire picture. They actually gave up the ninth-most scoring chances against and 13th-most high-danger chances, so they’re not as air-tight defensively as they might portray on the surface. Their fourth-best 5v5 SV% is the main reason for their success this year and they will need Darcy Kuemper or Antti Raanta to be terrific if they’re going to get by the Predators.

On the flip side, Nashville’s defensive numbers are pretty similar and their offensive numbers are just a tad better. It grades out to be a pretty even 5v5 matchup but also one that could produce very little fireworks or goals.

Advantage: Slight Nashville

Special Teams

Projected PP Units

PP1: Smith – Granlund – Forsberg

Turris – Josi

PP2: Jarnkrok – Johansen – Arvidsson

Duchene – Ellis

PP1: Kessel – Dvorak – Keller

Ekman-Larsson – Hall

PP2: Soderberg – Schmaltz – Garland

Chychrun – Goligoski

The power-play has been an issue for the Predators over the last two seasons. Their 15.0 percent PP over those two years ranks dead last in the NHL. Based on the numbers, Nashville’s 2020 PP should have been better. They were above average in generating scoring chances on the man advantage but were once against marred by a bottom-10 shooting percentage. That provides a glimmer of hope that their PP could turn things around in the playoffs, but Arizona’s top-5 penalty-kill will make that difficult.

Despite their power-play ranking 18th, Arizona’s PP ranked second-last in xGF at 5v4. So one power-play under-performed and the other over-performed, making it difficult to project how things will play out in the Qualifying Round. Both teams were among league-average in terms of taking penalties but were above-average in drawing penalties.

Advantage: Arizona

Goaltending

Both teams have high-quality goaltending tandems and there is a chance we actually see four goalies in this series. For Nashville, Pekka Rinne has been among the best goalies in the world for a decade but struggled in his age-37 season. He had the third-worst qualified SV% (.895) in the league this season and was badly outplayed by Juuse Saros. To make this decision even more interesting is Rinne’s playoff struggles over the last two years. In his last 19 playoff starts, Rinne has a .904 SV%. On the flip-side, Saros has stopped 74 of 80 shots (.925 SV%) in seven career playoff mop-up duties. Most of the signs would point towards Saros getting Game 1 except for experience and that often plays a large role in a coach’s decision.

For Arizona, they had injury concerns between the pipes most of the season but whether it was Darcy Kuemper or Antti Raanta in net, they were in good hands. Both goalies were in the top-8 in the NHL in SV%–Kuemper (.928), Raanta (.921). The Game 1 decision for Rick Tocchet seems a bit easier. It’s almost certainly going to be Kuemper in Game 1 but they have a fantastic fall-back option in Raanta.

Advantage: Slight Arizona

Prediction: Predators in 5

While the Coyotes should hold the Predators power-play to very little, Nashville should be able to win the 5v5 game pretty handily. Unless Kuemper stands on his head every night, Nashville should be able to get by a distracted Arizona team.



Antti Raanta, Arizona Coyotes, Darcy Kuemper, Filip Forsberg, Juuse Saros, Matt Duchene, Nashville Predators, Pekka Rinne