Nashville Predators vs. Arizona Coyotes: Key Things to Watch

Craig Smith #15 of the Nashville Predators (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Craig Smith #15 of the Nashville Predators (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief by Nashville Predators fans everywhere when they put up a shutout win against the Dallas Stars.

The Nashville Predators played exceptionally well against the Dallas Stars on Thursday. This highly-anticipated exhibition game was the first look at the Predators in a game situation that anyone had seen since March.

Aside from a few tweaks, the Predators look very prepared for their first qualifying game against the Arizona Coyotes. So far, the adjustments made by Head Coach John Hynes in training camp are yielding promising results.

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The Stars, a defensive team like Arizona, provided an excellent primer for what the Predators may face in their first qualifier. Everything counts beginning on Sunday.

Inside the matchup

The Predators and the Coyotes played twice this season, splitting the wins. The Coyotes drummed the Predators in Arizona with a 5-2 victory. The Predators got their revenge in December with a 3-2 win in Bridgestone Arena.

Both the Predators and the Coyotes have had their share of struggles this season. You can argue that both teams fell short of preseason expectations, which makes this an interesting series.

For the Coyotes, their strong suit is defense. They have one of the most solid goaltending tandems in Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta. They don’t allow a lot of goals, so the Predators will need to get pucks to the net often.

The Coyotes also have a top-rated penalty kill. The Predators have struggled on the power play this year, but looked better in the exhibition, scoring on their first opportunity.

If the Predators are lucky enough to draw a penalty against the Coyotes, they will have to capitalize, as those opportunities are few and far between.

Forwards Conor Garland, Taylor Hall, and Phil Kessel will be looking to take advantage of a Predators defense that has struggled this season. Hall scored the lone goal in their exhibition game with the Vegas Golden Knights.

Another thing to watch for the Coyotes will be the performance of Nick Schmaltz. He took an elbow to the head at the hands of Ryan Reaves during their exhibition and left the game.

Schmaltz’s status for Game 1 is uncertain, which would be a big piece to lose for the Coyotes:

For the Predators, the starting lineups  should be basically the same as Thursday. The JoFA  of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson, will be looking to continue the success that they had on Thursday.

Both goals against the Stars by Arvidsson were products of the entire line working in sync. The second goal was set up by Forsberg after some excellent puck handling and a backhand pass.

The Predators will need to step up their game even more if they hope to score against Arizona’s well-oiled defense. But the Coyotes didn’t look too great in their exhibition game against the Golden Knights, giving up four goals and only scoring once.

The penalty kill is another facet of the Predators’ game that was worked on in training camp and has hopefully been straightened out. A critical area that has to show improvement.

The big news for the Predators is the final choice for a starting goaltender. An official announcement from Hynes won’t come until just before the game most likely:

This is a great problem to have if you’re the Predators as it’s likely that both will be needed. Who gets the start on Sunday is something we’re still waiting to find out.

Defensive struggle?

This game has the potential to be a dull defensive stalemate decided by a goal. However, if the Predators can take the momentum gained in the exhibition and apply it on Sunday, the Coyotes will be in trouble.

The Predators are one of those inconsistent teams that occasionally can burst out offensively and pile up the goals. Don’t be surprised at all if that happens in a game or two, but the overall theme of the series should be stingy defense.

When you stack the two rosters against each other, the Predators have the more talented roster. There’s no question about it. And if defense is what dictates this series, I’ll take my chances with Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis leading the way.

This team has a track record this season of having short stretches of brilliance and then imploding. With the shortness of this qualifying round series, the Predators can’t afford to have that happen.

The Predators will begin their qualifying round with a win this Sunday. Puck drop is set for 1 P.M. CDT and will be televised locally on Fox Sports Tennessee and nationally on the USA Network.