There are a few things that absolutely have to happen for the Nashville Predators if they’re going to advance past the Arizona Coyotes.
If the NHL can keep moving forward with an unprecedented plan to return to action with a 24-team postseason, then the Nashville Predators will begin their journey against the Arizona Coyotes.
You can say this is a fairly decent matchup for the Predators as they have deeper scoring threats and have a more offensive firepower from top to bottom.
This five-game qualifying series has the makings to go the full five games and be very competitive. I also could see it being a defensive grudge match of sorts with not a lot of scoring.
Here’s a few critical things that will need to happen for the Predators to make it past Arizona.
A revamped power play
This area is going to be on the top of everyone’s list, and rightfully so. The Predators are going to have a hard time scoring against Arizona if they don’t come back much more efficient on the power play.
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The power play has been a growing problem going back to 2018-19 when they finished last in the NHL, converting less than 13 percent of the time.
It has slightly improved to over 17 percent this season, but that’s still not good enough to go deep in the playoffs.
I don’t see the Predators scoring more than one or two goals per game against Arizona if their power play isn’t improved. That needs to be a focal point when training camp resumes.
If important power play producers like Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, Kyle Turris and Filip Forsberg produce at a high rate when Arizona goes to the penalty box, then I like their chances of scoring at least three goals per game in the series.
Ryan Johansen is another important producer on the power play that needs to return to old form. Getting back to his old self of leading the power play and setting up teammates will be hugely beneficial to the Predators.
Breaking out of personal slumps
Speaking of Johansen, his overall game will need to come back stronger than ever. We know what he’s capable of. He’s a great distributor of the puck and generating offensive scoring chances for his linemates.
But that wasn’t always the case this past season. Johansen’s impact dwindled considerably despite playing with a lot of the same players and playing top minutes.
Johansen is a critical piece to the puzzle of getting the Predators back to a Western Conference Final. They need him in a big way to revitalize the power play and play to the level that he played in the Stanley Cup Final run and the following seasons when he tallied 39-assist and 50-assist seasons.
Another top player that’s looking to break out of a personal slump is Matt Duchene. He came here with a lot of buzz and hype, but hasn’t quite lived up to it. He’s been a streaky player for the Predators.
Let’s hope that Duchene can come out of the gate blazing and igniting the second line, that should have Forsberg on it as well. Throw Mikael Granlund on that line and suddenly you have a crazy good line that Arizona can’t match.
To a lesser degree, I want to see Kyle Turris find more consistency in the bottom-six. He’s had his moments this season when he’s looked like the player that initially came here from Ottawa.
Turris can help the Predators completely outplay Arizona’s bottom-six, and will take some of the pressure off the top two lines. He should come back refreshed and ready to go.
Picking up where you left off
This area is all about Juuse Saros. The team as a whole was playing great up until the pause, but Saros was a huge reason why. He put the team on his back and carried them to the final wildcard spot.
I’m cautiously optimistic that something clicked for Saros, and he’ll quickly return to that high level of play against Arizona.
The Predators will quickly be eliminated if Saros comes out flat, like he’s done in the past to open regular seasons. There’s just no way around it.
Maybe there’s a slight chance that Pekka Rinne comes in relief and plays like the Vezina Trophy winner he recently was. But I’m just not banking on that.
The Coyotes are going to make it extremely difficult on the Predators to score goals. Offense will be at a premium, and that means Saros has to be locked in immediately to match Arizona’s defensive play.
You need a locked in goaltender to ride when trying to go deep in the playoffs. Saros has the ability to be that guy, and was already doing it down the stretch of the regular season as the Predators already felt like they were in playoff mode trying to hammer down a wildcard spot.
If Saros can find that momentum quickly again, then I strong like the chances of the Predators to get past Arizona in five games, or even four games.
To recap what needs to happen, it’s going to take a revamped power play, some important players breaking out of slumps and Saros picking up where he left off for the Predators to eliminate the gritty Arizona Coyotes.