As you may or may not have heard, the NHL released their return to play plan, including their unique plan of hosting the 2020 Stanley Cup Final in two hub cities during the late summer. The 24-team format will likely be hockey’s toughest challenge yet and should give sports-hungry fans something fun to watch in late July and August (assuming it happens).

With that announcement came the news that the Nashville Predators (the 6 seed) would take on the Arizona Coyotes (the 11 seed) in a “best of five” play-in round (which they are calling the “qualifying round”) of the playoffs. This will take place sometime after a training camp, which is rumored to begin no earlier than July 10th.

So with that, it’s official: the Nashville Predators made the playoffs.

But what does this matchup with the Coyotes look like? Let’s take a look at the overview, then dive into further detail over the coming weeks.

Where Preds and Coyotes finished

The Preds finished 35-26-8 in 69 games when the season concluded back on March 12th. This put them 6th in the Western Conference in terms of points percentage, which is what the league used to seed teams this year. Though the Preds had a rather inconsistent season, spending much of the season outside of a playoff spot, they were 6-3-1 in their last 10 games before the shutdown.

The Coyotes were similarly inconsistent. They finished 33-29-8 in 70 games, putting them 11th in the West. They went 5-5-0 in their last 10 games before the shutdown.

Scoring and defense

The Preds finished the regular season 16th in the league in scoring (3.07 goals per game), while the Coyotes finished at 23rd (2.71 goals per game). While the Preds were among the league leaders in shots per game at 33.1 per game (good for 5th in the league), the Coyotes were around league average at 31.7 (good for 14th in the league).

On defense, the Coyotes were far better than the Preds. They finished 3rd in the league in goals allowed per game with 2.61. The Preds finished 20th in the league at 3.10 goals allowed per game.

Leading scorers and assist men

Both the Preds and Coyotes are underwhelming when it comes to offense. But they still have great talent that will be fun to watch head to head whenever the playoffs hit.

Here’s the top goal scorers for each team in a combined ranking:

  • ARI Conor Garland, 22 goals
  • NSH Filip Forsberg, 21 goals
  • NSH Nick Bonino, 18 goals
  • ARI Christian Dvorak, 18 goals
  • NSH Craig Smith, 18 goals
  • ARI Clayton Keller, 17 goals

And the leading assist men:

  • NSH Roman Josi, 49 assists
  • ARI Nick Schmaltz, 34 assists
  • NSH Ryan Ellis, 30 assists
  • NSH Matt Duchene, 29 assists
  • ARI Alex Goligoski, 28 assists
  • ARI Clayton Keller, 27 assists

Preds vs Coyotes: Advanced stats

Goals and assists are not the whole story when it comes to hockey. These days, there are far better ways to predict outcomes on the ice, whether those outcomes are scoring a goal or winning the game.

One of those ways is looking at shot-based analytics and expected goals. When looking at where players and teams tend to shoot from on the ice can tell us a lot about how likely a goal will be scored.

Here’s a quick glance at how the Preds and Coyotes stack up in this regard, via Natural Stat Trick:

Even strength shot attempt percentage(CF%); ratio of shot attempts generated vs. allowed on the ice

  • NSH – 11th (50.8%)
  • ARI – 25th (48.2%)

Even strength high danger shot attempt percentage (HDCF%); like CF%, but only looking at shot attempts from the “high danger area” (slot, below faceoff dot, etc.)

  • ARI – 25th (47.8%)
  • NSH – 26th (47.7%)

Expected goals share (xGF%); like CF%, but looks at overall shot quality, including shot distance and type

  • NSH – 13th (51.2)
  • ARI – 21st (48.8)

And the ultimate difference maker: goaltending

The Preds and Coyotes could have one of the better goaltending matchups in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, at least on paper.

First, the Preds boast a great tandem in Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros. Those two finished 12th in the league in even strength save percentage (91.3%), though they were only 20th in save percentage at all strengths (90.0%).

But now there are some major questions about whether Rinne or Saros will start Game 1. In March, it seemed clear that Saros had passed Rinne in the starter’s net, but recent comments by David Poile suggest that it’s anyone’s job (which means it’s Rinne’s).

The Coyotes may have a similar “problem” when it comes to Game 1 starter titles. Darcy Kuemper held the starter role for Arizona for most of the season, but Antti Raanta was excellent when Kuemper went out with an injury mid-way through the season. When Kuemper returned, he was back to form quickly and started all three final games for the Coyotes in March. Kuemper would be the likely Game 1 starter, but Raanta wouldn’t be a bad option either.

The Coyotes finished the season 3rd in even strength save percentage (92.3%) and 3rd in overall save percentage (91.9%). That’s quite impressive and gives Arizona the edge at probably the most important position in the playoffs.

Overall, who has the edge?

Given all this, it seems like the Coyotes are clearly the better defensive team. They have the better goaltending tandem and they do a better job preventing shot attempts in their own zone.

The Preds are probably a slightly better offensive team, which is probably a surprising statement to hear if you’ve watched the Preds all season. But the advantage is very slight. The Preds are a little bit better overall at generating scoring opportunities.

In the coming weeks, we will dive further into this Preds vs. Coyotes matchup, including the all important special teams as well as some individual matchups.

— Advanced stats via Natural Stat Trick. Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY —


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