Predators undone by lack of scoring in Cup Qualifiers

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The Nashville Predators were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Qualifiers by the Arizona Coyotes, losing 4-3 in overtime in Game 4 of the best-of-5 series Friday at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the Western Conference hub city.

The Predators were the No. 6 seed in the West after finishing the regular season with a .565 points percentage (35-26-8).

Here is a look at what happened during the 2020 postseason for the Predators and why things could be even better next season:

 

The Skinny

Potential unrestricted free agents: Colin Blackwell, F; Mikael Granlund, F; Craig Smith, F; Dan Hamhuis, D; Korbinian Holzer, D; Yannick Weber, D.

Potential restricted free agents: Yakov Trenin, F.

Potential 2020 NHL Draft picks: 7

 

What went wrong

Unable to finish: The Predators outshot the Coyotes 163-125, averaging a League-leading 40.8 shots per game in the Qualifiers, but scored 11 goals. The top line of Filip Forsberg (three goals, five points), Ryan Johansen (one goal, five points) and Viktor Arvidsson (three goals, three points) did the bulk of the work but Nashville needed more to overcome the stellar play of Arizona goalie Darcy Kuemper (2.77 goals-against average, .933 save percentage). Matt Duchene (one goal, two points), Mikael Granlund (one assist) and Kyle Turris (no points) were unable to generate enough. 

Not enough juice: Goalie Juuse Saros needed to be the best player on the ice for the Predators to equal Kuemper, but it didn’t happen. Saros, who took over as the No. 1 goalie after Pekka Rinne struggled this season and went 12-5-1 with a 2.22 GAA and .934 save percentage in his last 20 regular-season games (18 starts), finished with a 3.22 GAA and .895 save percentage in four playoff games (all starts).

Momentary miscues: The Predators went 4-for-14 on the power play (28.6 percent) but allowed a shorthanded goal to Michael Grabner late in the second period that proved decisive in a 4-3 loss in Game 1. In Game 3, Turris scored for Nashville at 1:10 of the third period, but the goal was overturned after Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet challenged for offside against Duchene. Arizona scored the next three goals in a 4-1 win.

 

Reasons for optimism

Coach Hynes: John Hynes replaced Peter Laviolette as coach on Jan. 7, and Nashville had a better power play (18.1 percent under Hynes; 16.8 percent previously) and penalty kill (79.3 percent under Hynes; 74.1 percent previously) following the change. When the NHL paused its season March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, Hynes used the opportunity to get to know each player so he should be well-prepared for the start of training camp.

Dynamic defensemen: Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis, one of the League’s top defense pairings, will be together for at least another seven seasons. Ellis can become an unrestricted free agent after the 2026-27 season and Josi after 2027-28. Josi had four assists, 21 shots on goal and averaged 26:56 in ice time, and Ellis had a goal and three points averaging 26:39 in ice time in the Qualifiers. Josi, a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman, led the Predators with 65 points (16 goals, 49 assists) in the regular season; he was one of two defensemen in the NHL to lead his team (John Carlson of the Washington Capitals, 75 points). 

Emergence of Fabbro: Predators defenseman Dante Fabbro, the No. 17 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, provided stability in a top-four role during the regular season, averaging 19:02 of ice time per game. He continued to gain Hynes’ trust in the Qualifiers, averaging 20:35 while leading Nashville with 12 blocked shots in the postseason. He was fifth among NHL rookies with 85 blocked shots in 64 regular-season games.

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