Nashville Predators: Top Forwards Should Prevail In Qualifier vs. Arizona

Actual hockey games are less than three weeks away as the Nashville Predators prepare for the Arizona Coyotes. Which team has the edge in their top forwards?

As postseason training camps are now officially open, we’re going to continue to look at some of the key matchups between the Nashville Predators and the Arizona Coyotes.

The goaltending matchup has already been pegged as the biggest factor between these two teams. Now it’s time to zero in on the top forwards on each squad, and who has the edge.

The real star of the Coyotes is their defensive play. With top-notch goaltending in Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta and a top-five penalty kill, the Coyotes are going to make it hard on the top forwards of the Predators.

The Predators are going to have to get several shots on goal to get past the goaltender wall. Some of the star players for the Predators who have struggled a bit this season will need to step up.

The key forwards

My top three forwards for the Predators are Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Johansen.  Nick Bonino gets an honorable mention.

These forwards have had some struggles during this tumultuous season. This pause has possibly given them time to reflect on their games and make the needed adjustments to play at a top level.

With 58 goals, 78 assists, and 126 points, these three forwards are not too shabby but will need to step up against the defensive-minded Coyotes.

If you add Bonino to this mix, the Predators are formidable on paper.

You also, of course, can’t omit Viktor Arvidsson. He should come back 100 percent healthy after dealing with a tough, injury-plagued second half of the season.

The Coyotes’ top three forwards are Nick Schmaltz, Clayton Keller, and Conor Garland. Their dark horse could be the aging veteran in Phil Kessel.

These three Coyotes have 50 goals, 78 assists, and 128 points combined and are pretty comparable to the Predators’ top three. If Kessel steps up during the playoffs, they could cause the Predators some trouble and ignite their offensive attack.

Playoff Experience…Advantage Predators

Playoff experience is where the Predators have a distinct advantage over the Coyotes. Even though they’ve come up short the last two playoff runs, the Predators have a roster full of players who know what it’s like to be in intense playoff situations.

The Predators have been in the playoffs for the past five years, and eight of the last ten seasons. Conversely, the Coyotes have not been in the playoffs since the 2011-2012 season.

Our three Predators forwards, four if you include Bonino, have a combined total of 226 playoff games. These four have loads of valuable playoff experience and should be able to handle the pressure of this unique experience.

The four Coyotes’ forwards don’t come anywhere close to having that much playoff experience. They combine for 91 playoff games. All but four of those games belong to Kessel, with the other four games to Schmaltz.

There are other Coyotes that do have playoff experience, but obviously with other teams.

Two of the Predators forwards, Forsberg and Johansen, have been to the Stanley Cup Final. Bonino is a two-time Stanley Cup winner with Pittsburgh.

If playoff experience means anything, then give a huge advantage to the Predators over the Coyotes. It’s safe to say that players like Forsberg and Johansen remember that sinking feeling of falling short in the playoffs the last two postseasons, while also remembering that tremendous feeling in 2017 of marching through the playoffs to get to the Stanley Cup Final.

Offensive Firepower…Advantage Predators, Sort Of

We are all aware of what the Predators can do offensively. While this season has been a struggle, each of the forwards mentioned has the capability of playing better than they have. But when this team clicks through their top forwards, this offense can pile up the goals on anyone.

The Predators had their fair share of ugly losses over the regular season, which is why they finished where they did in the standings. But with that also came very impressive offensive wins over teams like the Washington Capitals, New York Islanders. Vegas Golden Knights and St. Louis Blues.

Simply put, the potential to be an offensive powerhouse is there through their top forwards like Forsberg, Duchene and Johansen.

The Predators were on a hot streak before the pause, and a few of the forwards were beginning to come out of the slumps that plagued them for part of the season. A key question is if they can pick that up after such a long layoff.

All of the offense that the Predators can muster can be nullified by the goaltending and strong defensive play of Arizona. This puts extra pressure on whoever will be in goal for Nashville as these games should be low-scoring affairs that will be decided by which goaltender blinks first.

The Predators will need to shoot and shoot often. But they’re most likely going to have to be high-quality shots to beat Kuemper or Raanta. That will especially be true on the power play. Take advantage and don’t just throw blind pucks at the net expecting something good to happen.

The Predators forwards have the talent, experience, and depth to pull off the wins needed to get past Arizona. It will not be easy by any stretch of the imagination.

If they can all pull together and if they are all well-rested and healthy, the Predators should be able to outlast Arizona just based on a heavy advantage in top forward play and playoff experience.

Per the official Predators website, the teams will be playing on August 2, 4, and 5. Games 4 and 5, if necessary, will take place on August 7 and August 9.