Nashville Predators vs Arizona Coyotes: Playoffs Opening Round Free Pick & Predictions

Predators vs. Coyotes
Nashville Predators vs Arizona Coyotes: Playoffs Opening Round Free Pick & Predictions

The NHL resumes its season in its two Canadian hub cities with the Western Conference taking over Edmonton. In the West, the sixth-seeded Nashville Predators face the 11th-seeded Arizona Coyotes in an Opening Rounds series. The Predators finished on 78 points in 69 games to qualify for the postseason for the sixth straight year. The Coyotes had 74 points in 70 contests and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2012. The best-of-five series opens at 2 p.m. Sunday with a potential Game 5 scheduled for Aug. 9.

Free Picks & Predictions

Like most of the Opening Rounds series in the Western Conference, the seeds don’t really matter in this one. Points percentage might have made the Predators the sixth seed and Coyotes the 11th, but these four teams were separated by four points in the standings and split their two meetings this season.

It’s rarely a good thing when a defenseman is a team’s leading scorer as is the case with Nashville. Roman Josi leads all skaters with 65 points, which is 17 more than Filip Forsberg has in second place. However, the Predators have 10 players with at least 10 goals and could have had as many as seven or eight 20-goal scorers if the regular season had continued.

Arizona is even more strapped for goals than Nashville after scoring just 190 times this year, which ranks 22nd in the league. To help solve the offensive woes, the Coyotes traded for Taylor Hall during the season, and Hall scored 10 goals and assisted on 17 others in 35 games with Arizona. He and Phil Kessel provide veteran scoring options for the Coyotes to support their young nucleus of forwards – namely Connor Garland, Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz.

The difference in these two clubs is on defense and special teams where the Coyotes have the advantage. Arizona allowed the fourth-fewest goals this season and had the league’s fifth-best penalty kill. Nashville ranked 25th on the power play, 29th on the penalty kill and were in the middle of the pack in terms of goals allowed.

In between the pipes, the Predators have to decide between the experience of Pekka Rinne, who is seemingly on the decline, and the young Juuse Saros, who has never been the true No. 1 goalie in the NHL but had the better season. Neither compares well to Darcy Kuemper, who was having a stellar season for the Coyotes before an injury forced him to miss two months. He came back to play in four games before the league shutdown, but went 1-3 with a .924 save percentage.

Having the better goalie and the better scorers is a good enough formula to predict the Coyotes will find their way past the Predators. Odds on Arizona to win the series vary across the NHL betting sites in New Jersey, but the best odds on the Coyotes were +115 to win the series. The bolder will take Arizona to win the series in four games at +430.

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Josh Walfish is an award-winning journalist who has been covering college and professional sports in the United States. He holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University and his work has appeared in the Miami Herald, Chicago Sun-Times and Providence Journal. He most recently chronicled the UMass hockey teams rise to prominence over the last two years for the local newspaper

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