Today in this Western Conference outlook we take a look at the Arizona Coyotes. Yes, the Arizona Coyotes; do not forget that they have officially changed their name to from Phoenix to Arizona.
In case you missed it, we took a look at the Winnipeg Jets and predicted how the Predators will fare against them next season here.
The Coyotes A Year Ago
The Coyotes finished last season one-point ahead of the Predators in the Western Conference standings. The Coyotes 37-30-15 record, which started off as a 13-4-3 record through their first 20-games, placed them as the number-nine team in the West after seasons end, only two-points out of a possible wild-card spot for the playoffs. The Coyotes play in the oh-so-difficult Pacific Division and finished fourth in the division last season behind the power-three teams of California.
Looking at the Coyotes of last season it is easy to see that what hurt them the most was their defensive play, most noticeably on the penalty-kill. The Coyotes as a group allowed 2.73 goals-per-game ranking them eighteenth among the thirty NHL teams. Add to that above average number a 79% penalty-kill average that ranked twenty-sixth in the league the Coyotes found themselves “in the hole” so to speak too many times through the course of games last season.
Despite being the twenty-sixth worst penalty-killing teams, the Coyotes were the fourth-best team in the league when playing with the man advantage with a power-play percentage of 19.9%; an interesting comparison to look at.
The Coyotes blue-line did suffer one major injury a year ago that certainly effected their poor defensive play. Coyotes top-line defenseman Zbynek Michalek missed a total of 22-games last season due to injury, so the return of a healthy Michalek for a hopefully full-season will do nothing but help the Coyotes blue-line.
Coyotes goalie Mike Smith had a mixed bag when it came to his statistics last season. Smith allowed 159-goals in his 62 games played, the second highest number among all goalies who played in 50-plus games last season. In that same 50-plus game category, Smith posted the fourth-highest number of saves a year ago with 1,712. Despite his high-number of saves, he faced a total of 1,871-shots which was the fourth highest number of shots-against among all NHL teams and he finished the season with a .915 save percentage which put him as number twenty-three in the NHL in that category.
All signs point to the blue-line in Arizona next season to lower that shots-against number and allow Smith to breath a little easier on the ice if they want to have success as they have in the past.
The Predators finished 2-0-1 against the Coyotes a season ago.
Coyotes Off-Season Moves
The Coyotes have made a number of moves this off-season. The one move Arizona made that Predators fans most definitely know of was their buy-out of forward Mike Ribeiro who was later signed by the Predators via free-agency to a 1-year, $1.05 mil contract. Ribeiro could end up being a significant loss to the Coyotes who did have 47-points in 80-games last season in Arizona.
After the buy-out of Ribeiro, the Coyotes found themselves as a team who was weak up the middle of the ice at the center position; enter Sam Gagner. The Coyotes acquired Gagner, who played in Edmonton last season, via a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning which sent essentially much needed cap-space and a sixth-round pick to Tampa Bay in return for Gagner and B.J. Crombeen. Gagner had just 37-points in 67-games last season in Edmonton, but Coyotes fans are hoping that a change in scenery may bolster Gagner to his first ever 50-point season.
It is unknown if Gagner will slide into a top-six center position or a top-six winger position but his addition to the Coyotes top-six group could and should have an immediate impact in Arizona.
Other additions to Arizona’s roster are forwards Joe Vitale from Pittsburgh and previously noted B.J. Crombeen from Tampa Bay. The Coyotes also added two-goalies to their system in former Predator Devan Dubnyk and former Columbus Blue Jacket Mike McKenna.
With the additions to Arizona’s system there were also key-losses to their system as well.
Other than the loss of Mike Ribeiro via buy-out, another big-loss was forward Radim Vrbata who scored 20-goals last season and tallied 51-points a year ago with the Coyotes. Vrbata was signed by the Vancouver Canucks this off-season. Other players no longer with the Coyotes are forwards Tim Kennedy and Paul Bissonnette along with defenseman Derek Morris.
Predators Predictions Against the Coyotes
In my opinion, the Coyotes are one of the most interesting and unpredictable teams in the NHL. Arizona has new faces coming into the picture, while others are leaving the picture; hmm I know a team that sounds awfully similar to that.
The Predators and Coyotes are similar in a lot of ways. Last season they were neck-and-neck coming down the stretch with the Coyotes finishing the season with just one more point than the Predators in the final standings, new faces are arriving while others are leaving, Nashville was nineteenth in goals-per-game last season while Arizona was twentieth; but that was last season.
Both the Coyotes and Predators have question marks for next season, but both do have very good goalies in Pekka Rinne and Mike Smith who could steal games any given night if in their top-form.
Next season the Predators have to play the Coyotes on the road twice while only getting the Coyotes at Bridgestone Arena once. Despite having the worst attendance numbers in the NHL last season, the Coyotes did post a respectable home-game record at 22-14-5 a year ago and did defeat the Predators in a shootout in Arizona. With that being said, I think the Predators re-write that script from a season ago, losing one game via shootout in Arizona.
For the other game in Arizona, I think the Predators stumble and take the loss there in regulation amongst their road-trip to the Mid-West and West-Coast in the middle of December.
I do though see the Predators taking care of business at home against the Coyotes next season in their one game in Nashville early in the season after returning home from a back-to-back game road trip in Winnipeg and Chicago.
The regular season series between Nashville and Arizona is a big-one for both hockey teams and whoever can salvage the most points in the three-game series could find themselves looking from the inside-out as a playoff team.
I predict the Predators to go 1-1-1 against the very interesting and mysterious – newly named Arizona Coyotes next season.
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