The surprise departure of general manager John Chayka took the headlines during the pause in play, but the Arizona Coyotes on the ice probably have tunnel vision entering a season resumption.
They have a lot to prove.
By the time the coronavirus brought the NHL to a halt, Arizona was 33-29-8 and fifth in points (74) in the Pacific Division standings. The Coyotes get a chance to make a playoff run starting with a five-game series in the Edmonton bubble against the Nashville Predators starting Sunday, and both teams will be attempting to hit the gas pedal hard in order to reach preseason expectations that neither exactly touched before the pause.
With that, we asked our Arizona Sports hosts and editors to give their overview entering the Coyotes-Preds series starting with this prompt:
What do you think is the key for the Coyotes to have success against Nashville? Will they win the series? Why?
Doug Franz, co-host of Doug & Wolf: I didn’t guarantee the D-backs would make the playoffs in March during spring training but I did in July before the re-start. The way they look right now, I’m a little gun shy on making another prediction, but I do think the Coyotes will advance. Both teams needed the breather. The Preds have really underwhelmed all year and the ‘Yotes fell apart at the end, so each team has a ton to prove.
Looking at a healthy Darcy Kuemper, a contract-motivated Taylor Hall and a Phil Kessel (who’s been a shell of himself this year) that needs to pick up the pieces, the Coyotes seem to be a team with all the right pieces. I don’t think they’ll go on a long playoff run, but I think they beat the Preds in five.
Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: Goaltending will be the key and the Coyotes’ depth in particular could come in handy. Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta could be one of the better one-two duos you’ll see in the hub. With all those games crammed into a short time, they’ll need all the depth they have at the position to advance.
Matt Layman, ArizonaSports.com editor and reporter: The key for the Coyotes to have success against Nashville is to score goals while not relenting on their defensive identity. They’ll need to force Nashville to make mistakes and then capitalize on those mistakes.
Arizona isn’t really built to trade goals with a team all game long; the Coyotes’ strength is their defense. Still, with former MVP Taylor Hall, elite goal-scorer Phil Kessel, first-round picks Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz, plus breakout player Conor Garland all in the forward group, there should be enough firepower there to put the puck in the net. But the Coyotes still have to maintain the same patience and defensive diligence that got them the third-best goals allowed per game mark in the NHL in 2019-20.
The Coyotes ranked only 23rd in scoring this year. They need to not allow that to be a reason to lose the series.
Will Arizona win the series? I think this matchup is such a coin-flip that I don’t really even want to make a prediction, but for the sake of not dodging the question — Predators in five. It’s a lot of the same players that went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017 and their record in 2019-20 really was not indicative of their ability. That said, this is a winnable series for the Coyotes.
Kellan Olson, ArizonaSports.com editor and reporter: The offensive skill they have at the top finally producing.
The goaltending has proven to be elite, and ditto for the defense being reliable and solid enough. But that’s the same exact case for Nashville, so it comes down to one of Clayton Keller, Phil Kessel or Taylor Hall having a huge offensive series. Maybe it’s even Oliver Ekman-Larrson on the power play. Just one of those four being dynamic all series would be a dramatic change, and more than one of them getting hot could see the Coyotes make a huge run.
But I don’t think they win the series. They have proven all season to be extremely inconsistent, even after the addition of Hall. Darcy Kuemper is the type of goaltender you can win a Cup with, but the guys in front of him have mostly been a letdown and I don’t feel comfortable enough betting on them.
Kevin Zimmerman, ArizonaSports.com editor and reporter: Do I believe in the Coyotes? Their goaltending and defense have shown up all year long, and I don’t doubt it can translate to an elimination series well.
Yet putting the puck in the net has been a challenge despite the additions of Taylor Hall and Phil Kessel. You’d expect they as individuals and the Coyotes have used all this time to determine how to get more out of proven offensive players, and it’s not like Arizona was previously abysmal in getting shots (at the least the Coyotes were inconsistent).
Is “they should have room to improve” a good reason to bet on them against a Nashville team that looks similar but has a strong playoff resume? Probably not.