For the first time since the 2011-12 season, the Arizona Coyotes are headed to the playoffs after beating the Nashville Predators in a best-of-five play-in series.
Every game featured the winning team scoring four goals, and the team that scored first would ultimately win the game. The final game featured Nashville tying it during the last minute, only for the Coyotes to come back and get the win in overtime. All in all a fun and exciting series to be sure.
The Coyotes have plenty of veteran players, but their core is also made up of younger players the Coyotes have drafted and developed.
Clayton Keller, Christian Dvorak, Conor Garland, Christian Fischer, Jakob Chychrun, Barrett Hayton, Jordan Oesterle, and Lawson Crouse all made their postseason debuts during this series.
Some players had a bigger impact than others, but no one seemed in over their heads. The postseason is a different beast altogether, and it is great that to see the younger guys adapt to it and win their first series.
It is hard to overstate the impact that Darcy Kuemper had on this series. He isn’t the sole reason the Coyotes are advancing to the playoffs, more on that soon, but he is a big reason.
Kuemper did his job, making the saves he needed to make to keep the Coyotes in the game. He kept Nashville off the board long enough for the Coyotes to score and protected the leads the did get.
The team in front of him didn’t make it easy for him, through four games he made a total of 152 saves. For context that is 41 more saves than Juuse Saros made, and Saros allowed only two more goals than Kuemper.
Darcy Kuemper enters the next round leading all goaltenders in total saves and he is third in save percentage among goalies who have played three or more games. He is currently playing like one of the best goalies in the postseason and as we all know a hot goaltender can steal a series or even a championship.
Scoring from the top
The Coyotes didn’t just rely on their top line to generate offense. In four games, 16 players recorded a point so it is fair to say they were getting offense throughout the lineup, but their top players came to play.
A major knock on the team the past few seasons is that their top-line players seemed to disappear for stretches of games. Thankfully, this would not hold true in the postseason, with Clayton Keller, Phil Kessel, Taylor Hall, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson all finishing the series with four points in four games. Christian Dvorak and Derek Stepan weren’t far behind with three points.
Perhaps the only player who didn’t play to expectations was Conor Garland who was limited to just one goal, although that goal was the game-winner for Game 3.
Craig Morgan coined the phrase and it is a good description of the Yotes play during the series.
Rope-a-Yote in full effect.— Craig Morgan (@CraigSMorgan) August 7, 2020
I’m not sure if it was the team’s game plan to be outshot 19-9 in the first period of Game 3 or 15-8 during the first period of Game 4. The team was able to weather the storm with Kuemper in net and score first and win both of those games.
Colorado isn’t the Nashville Predators, and allowing Nathan MacKinnon or Gabriel Landeskog to generate that much offense is probably not a good idea, but it will be interesting to see if the Coyotes start slow in the next series and if it works out for them.
Steve Peters’ offside call
A key moment of the series isn’t going to show up on any score sheet, but it was huge. During the third game, the Predators seemed to break the tie in the third period when former Coyote Kyle Turris put the puck over the shoulder of Kuemper.
Video coach Steve Peters was quick to let the bench know they should challenge, and the Matt Duchene was ruled offsides.
It is hard to overstate the effect of that call. The Coyotes keep the game tied and were able to get the lead minutes later with Garland’s goal. Arizona won that game 4-1 so it’s possible they would have still won if that goal had stood, but hockey is a funny game and the momentum could have seriously changed if Nashville was able to take the lead.
The fourth line
For stretches of the series, especially in the final two games, the Coyotes were getting badly outplayed by the Predators. Coach Tocchet would respond with his fourth line, Brad Richardson, Michael Grabner, and often Vinnie Hinostroza.
More often than not they were able to quiet things down, clear the puck, and get some time in the offensive zone. And though they didn’t always score, they did give the Coyotes a chance to reset and get some relief from the pressure Nashville was applying.
During the fourth game especially Tocchet put a lot of faith in his fourth line. That faith was rewarded time and time again, to be capped off with Brad Richardson getting the overtime series-clinching goal in the fourth game.
It was mentioned a few times throughout the series but before the start, there was a real possibility that Grabner would opt-out. He was a healthy scratch throughout the regular season and if he wasn’t going to play why go? Luckily for the team, he did come, and in the first game, his short-handed goal would prove to be the game-winner.
Special teams are big in the postseason, which is not a good thing for the Coyotes.
They had one of the worst penalty kills of the postseason, and are one of seven teams who allowed four or more power play goals, and other than the Coyotes only two of those teams are advancing.
Arizona did get a short-handed goal from Michael Grabner, and things seemed to improve after the first game, but the Coyotes are going to need to get better on the PK moving forward.
Arizona’s power play has been an issue throughout the regular season, and those problems followed them into the postseason.
The Coyotes netted just two power plays on twelve opportunities. It wasn’t a major issue, they were able to generate plenty of offense five-on-five, but it is still not ideal.
The referees were calling games pretty tight, especially the first one which featured thirteen penalties being called. If that continues, big if given the refs’ tendency to “put the whistle away” during the plays, the Coyotes are going to need to pounce on those opportunities and find a way to make their opponents pay.
Injuries didn’t play a huge part in the series, but it was always a specter hiding in the background.
The team was without their regular season leading point scorer Nick Schmaltz, but the team was able to generate offense without him. Hopefully, that means the Coyotes will be able to score more when and if he does return, although that remains to be seen.
The Coyotes were also without Antti Raanta from midway through the second game on. Raanta took a puck to the head during warm-ups, and without him, Kuemper is going to be getting a lot of starts.
The head shot on Raanta during warmups. pic.twitter.com/1VCIKvU4LZ— The Goalie Guild (@TheGoalieGuild) August 4, 2020
Thankfully, Kuemper seems fine with the pressure and pace and played well in the second game of the back-to-back and the fourth game after he had a chance to rest. Until Raanta is healthy the team has Adin Hill, who has spent a lot of time with the Tucson Roadrunners and seems ready to make the leap to the NHL any time now.