John Hynes

Predators tie series with Coyotes, take advantage of tough Game 2 for Kuemper

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With the Predators winning Game 2 by a score of 4-2 and tying the series 1-1, the script got flipped on the Coyotes.

In Game 1, it was Nashville that needed to fight uphill after playoff-inexperienced-but-impressive goalie Juuse Saros had a tough start. As great as Darcy Kuemper has been for the Coyotes for some time, Game 2 was not kind to an impressive goalie who still doesn’t have much of a playoff resume.

There was even a faint, late push to make Game 2 more competitive. The Coyotes sanded down a 4-0 deficit to a more respectable 4-2 score with two goals in the final minute, but it merely blemished Saros’ stats.

(Granted, maybe it gave the Coyotes a moderate confidence boost?)

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Saros outplays Kuemper in Game 2, helping Predators tie series vs. Coyotes

Despite opening with a 14-5 shots on goal edge, the Coyotes found themselves down 2-0 to the Predators after the first period. It was really only after Calle Jarnkrok put Nashville up 3-0 that the Predators even started to level the possession game. Eventually, Nashville did just that, evening things out with a pretty strong second period.

Saros looked sharp in Game 2, justifying John Hynes’ decision to stick with Saros even with pressure from some to turn to Pekka Rinne. That might be something for Coyotes fans and observers to keep in mind, then. Kuemper’s been a saving grace at times for Arizona, though he was a detriment to start Game 2.

Granted, some of that position also leans on the possibility that Antti Raanta might not be a much of an option, anyway.

After being a force with two assists in Game 1, Taylor Hall struggled in Game 2. Not only was Hall held off of the scoreboard, but he was also a detriment to his team in some ways. Hall was whistled for eight minutes worth of penalty time in Game 2 alone. Things got physical between Hall and Ryan Ellis during Game 2, and you can expect things to go that way as the series only intensifies.

For better or worse for the Coyotes, they won’t have much time to lick their wounds, as they’ll face the Predators in Game 3 on Wednesday afternoon. We’ll see if this series will continue to be unpredictable — right down to the play of the goalies.

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes 4, Predators 3 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Predators 4, Coyotes 2
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*, TBD

* – If necessary

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Coyotes hold off Predators’ comeback to take Game 1

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The Coyotes denied a Predators comeback to take Game 1 of their Stanley Cup Qualifier series, 4-3.

Arizona came out flying in the first period, beating Juuse Saros three times in a span of 7:43. A fluky double deflection, a defensive zone turnover, and a power play would force Nashville to chase the rest of the game.

Nashville won the possession game, controlling 69% of shot attempts at 5-on-5, per Natural Stat Trick, but couldn’t solve Darcy Kuemper, who finished with 40 saves.

Before we move on, let’s take a look at Oliver Ekman-Larsson‘s wacky opening goal:

Undisciplined Predators

The momentum created as the Predators mounted a comeback was halted by penalties. They handed the Coyotes six power plays in Game 1, including one late in the third period while they continued controlling possession.

The Predators had their chances, but kept creating their own mistakes. Down 3-1, and on a power play late in the second period, Filip Forsberg‘s pass went right to Michael Grabner, who had plenty of space ahead for a shorthanded goal.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Rinne’s streak ends

Saros getting his first career playoff start meant that Pekka Rinne’s 89-game postseason streak came to an end.

Rinne’s streak began in 2010 and is the fourth-longest for a goalie in NHL history behind Martin Brodeur (194), Patrick Roy (133), and Henrik Lundqvist (128).

Who was the last Predators goalie to start a playoff game before Rinne’s streak began? That would be Dan Ellis.

Now comes decision time. It’s hard to pin the loss on Saros’, but coaches are prone to overreaction. Would Hynes make the decision to switch in order shake up his team in an 0-1 hole in a best-of-five series? The head coach has faith in both.

“I feel very confident in both goalies,” Hynes said on Saturday. “As we’ve said, in training camp, they were both very competitive and both played well and it’s a unique situation. I feel that the way that they are together, the way the compete and support each other, it’s helpful.”

Hynes did say Sunday after Game 1 he liked Saros’ game but does not have a decision on a Game 2 starter right now.

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes

Tuesday, Aug. 4: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*, TBD

You can watch all the NHL playoff streams on the NBC Sports app.

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Coyotes vs. Predators: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview

The NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers kick off the Return to Play plan on August 1. This week, PHT will be previewing each series with a look at storylines and end with our predictions for the eight matchups. In this case, it’s Coyotes vs. Predators.

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes: TV schedule, start times, channels

Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2 p.m. ET – USA Network
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*, TBD

Coyotes – Predators preview: Top storylines for Stanley Cup Qualifiers series

Taylor Hall and the Chayka Elephant in the Room

Wow, the Coyotes sure had a weekend, huh?

At this point, the he-said, they-said arguments are mainly for boardrooms and executives. Even Gary Bettman may need to intervene.

As with a lot of things in sports, the strange John Chayka situation probably won’t affect much of what happens on the ice. After all, this isn’t the Coyotes’ offseason. A GM’s job during the NHL Return to Play mainly boils down to observing, at least after training camp rosters were already determined.

But Chayka’s strange, messy departure does hammer at maybe the biggest storyline of this series: what about Taylor Hall?

While Hall brings almost comical draft lottery luck to his teams, the player himself seems star-crossed in almost Shakespearean ways. With that in mind, it’s all too (painfully) fitting that Hall seems primed to hit the free agent market at the worst possible time.

This messy behind-the-scenes situation seemingly makes it that much less likely for Hall to return to the Coyotes.

But who knows? Maybe the Coyotes would throw their checkbook at Hall to try to save face? Interim GM Steve Sullivan could have pushed the hardest for Hall, for all we know.

Hall’s future with the Coyotes is already a story, yet the bigger one is if he can drive up his value — or not. We’ll just need to wait to find out if it will be a happy story for Hall, for once.

Rinne vs. Saros: who should be Predators’ starting goalie?

Rinne or Saros Predators starting goalie vs. Coyotes
(Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

Bad news for people who hate any trace of politics in their sports. When it comes to goaltending situations, it’s not always about “let the best goalie win.” Sometimes teams lean on an old hand out of a feeling of loyalty, or a fear for the unknown.

Frankly, that’s naive, because the same goalie can produce wildly different results from year to year.

Pekka Rinne‘s done some great things for the Predators, and he’s not that far removed from some of his best work. (See: Rinne’s 2017-18 Vezina win.) Even so, it’s tough to ignore a rough 2019-20 season where Rinne managed a putrid .895 save percentage.

If you go based on recency alone, Juuse Saros demands the No. 1 spot. Saros outplayed Rinne in full season stats (.914 save percentage), but the smaller, younger Finnish goalie was especially proficient down the stretch. In 17 games after the 2020 NHL All-Star Game, Saros managed a tremendous .936 save percentage.

Yet, even then, there’s room for debate. While it’s most likely a coincidence, Saros experienced slow starts to both of the past two seasons before righting the ship. If he’s a slow starter, then maybe Rinne would be the better choice, especially as the far more experienced goalie?

Overall, maybe it’s a plus that John Hynes is here instead of Peter Laviolette. If nothing else, Hynes might be more open-minded about going with the hot hand. After all, Hynes wouldn’t cherish memories of Rinne’s best runs like Laviolette maybe would.

For all we know, that goalie battle may simply drag on as the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers go on. Either way, it would be refreshing if the No. 1 choice came down to perceived merit, rather than bowing down to puck politics.

Will the Coyotes continue to be the team with the dominant goalie tandem?

Despite the time, effort, and money sunk into improving the Coyotes on offense, this team continues to live and die by goaltending lately.

Luckily, that goaltending ranks among the best in the NHL basically since the calendar hit 2019.

Darcy Kuemper headlines that group, as he quietly put together tremendous work between the latter half of 2018-19 and early part of 2019-20. Things seemed to go sideways with expected starter Antti Raanta … until Raanta held down the fort while Kuemper got hurt.

Frankly, even with often-elite goaltending, the Coyotes had to scratch and claw to win games. What if the pandemic pause (understandably) threw Kuemper and/or Raanta off of their games? Mere marginal slippage might mar the Coyotes’ slim margin of error.

Will either coach make a big difference in Coyotes – Predators?

Months later, I’m still a little confounded by how emphatically the Predators chose John Hynes to succeed Laviolette.

Sure, it sounds like Hynes comes across as a nice guy. It’s also true that the Devils didn’t exactly provide Hynes with a fool-proof roster loaded with talent.

Still, it strikes as odd that the Predators reportedly didn’t interview other coaches. They confidently hired a coach who, frankly, didn’t enjoy much success as an NHL head coach. Maybe that makes sense for a rebuilding team, but for an aging, underachieving one like the Predators? One whose window to contend could close soon if certain things break the wrong way?

Yeah, it’s all confusing. But maybe Hynes will shine during the NHL Return to Play, both during the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers and (the Predators hope) beyond? The early results have been mixed, and Rick Tocchet has his own credible doubters, so we’ll see.

(We haven’t really seen Tocchet be a Phil Kessel whisperer, for example.)

Who’s out, Who might return for Coyotes, Predators?

Predators: While Nashville dealt with issues during the season, they entered the pause already getting healthier. So far, it looks like they’ll be close to full-strength.

Coyotes: It looks like Conor Garland and Jakob Chychrun are both over their pre-pause problems. Both Raanta and Kuemper dealt with in-season issues, so while rust might be a challenge, at least they’re likely to be healthy.

More on 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, NHL Return to Play series:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Hynes to use camp for Predators’ No. 1 goalie competition

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Add the Predators to the list of teams with a big goalie decision hanging over them ahead of the NHL’s Return to Play.

Should the league resume the 2019-20 season this summer, teams like the Predators, Rangers, Penguins, and Hurricanes will be among those using training camp to determine their No. 1 starters. Pekka Rinne (35 starts) and Juuse Saros (34 start) split the workload during the regular season, but it was Saros taking the reins down the stretch. The 25-year-old Saros started 11 of Nashville’s final 14 games before the pause.

That success could play into head coach John Hynes’ decision when the time comes. But ultimately, he’s going to use training camp to make his final determination on who starts in the Qualifying Round vs. the Coyotes.

“We’ve talked to [Rinne and Saros] over this break, and I think both players have to come back with the mindset that they want to have the starting job,” Hynes told 102.5 The Game this week. “I don’t think it’s probably smart or fair going into training camp to say that one guy is ahead of the other only because we don’t know how they’re going to come back. Are they going to be ready? Is one guy going to be playing really well and one guy’s not? We believe both guys can help us win, but it’s going to be a bit of a competition.”

The case for Saros

Hynes said that the reason why he didn’t play Rinne as much before the pause was because Saros was “finding ways to win games.” That was certainly the case.

In Nashville’s last 18 games, Saros started 14 of them (and relieved Rinne twice) while posting a .939 even strength save percentage, and was second among goalies over that stretch with 7.2 goals saved above average and a 29.68 expected goals average, via Natural Stat Trick. The Predators won 10 games he started in that period, which plays into Hynes’ reasoning for sticking with the hot hand.

Hynes certainly needed something from his netminders given the playoff fight Nashville was in. Through 69 games the Predators had 78 points, good enough to put them in the second wild card spot in the Western Conference. But the Wild and Coyotes were right on their heels within four points, making every game a big one. That’s why Saros was the choice, which was strengthened with a pair of huge shutouts against the Stars just before play stopped.

[MORE: NHL announces return-to-play plans]

The case for Rinne

There’s not really a statistical argument in favor of the veteran here. If you take stats from this season, Saros has the edge. But this isn’t just another season. There will have been nearly five months between games, if a restart even happens.

What Hynes could rely on if he chooses Rinne is the experience factor. Saros has zero starts and seven playoff appearances in his career. Rinne has 89 starts and helped the Predators advance to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. He’s played in those big games and been in those tense moment. Recent history is against him, however. In the last two postseasons he’s put up an .908 even strength save percentage in 19 starts. That’s not good.

A best-of-five series means there’s little room for error.

“I think the team that gets goaltending right away [has the advantage],” Hynes said. “It’ll be four months off before a training camp and maybe an exhibition game, maybe two, we don’t know. It’s going to be a little bit of hyperactivity, a lot of intensity. The team that gets goaltending early in this to allow their team to get up and running, get some confidence, and get the team better to battle is going to be really important.”

Both goalies are signed through the end of the 2021-22 NHL season. Saros is clearly the future with Rinne turning 38 this coming November. The torch passing that was eventually coming in the Nashville crease has likely already happened.

MORE:
NHL clears up 2020 playoff picture

Qualifying Round storylines

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Long-term outlook on Nashville Predators: salary cap commitments, big decisions

Long-term outlook for Predators Duchene Johansen Forsberg
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Nashville Predators.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

For better or worse, the Predators’ salary structure is loaded with long-term contracts.

GM David Poile made one of the biggest decisions yet when he locked down Roman Josi to a big contract extension. Josi looked like more than a $9.06M defenseman in 2019-20, but that eight-year pact doesn’t begin until next season. Josi turns 30 in June, so it will be fascinating to see if Nashville’s gamble pays off.

Matt Duchene‘s $8M AAV runs through 2025-26, one year after Ryan Johansen‘s matching cap hit expires.

For every very, very nice bargain (Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Ellis), there are some dubious contracts for the likes of Kyle Turris. There’s talent, no doubt, but with quite a few of those players getting older, it’s fair to wonder when the window will shut with a big thud. It’s also scary since 2019-20 also inspired doubts about this group’s ceiling.

It all makes Poile’s penchant for handing term to supporting cast members that much more limiting. Nashville has Colton Sissons, Calle Jarnkrok, Austin Watson, and Rocco Grimaldi on the books for quite some time. This isn’t to say that such moves will all backfire; they’re just worth monitoring.

The Predators also face some fascinating questions about who else is staying.

Both Mattias Ekholm and Filip Forsberg deserve significant raises when their contracts run out after 2021-22.

Nashville deserves credit for retaining Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros without handing them frightening term. Unfortunately, that flexibility also comes with some uncertainty. Both goalies’ contracts expire after next season, so the Predators will need to solve those riddles.

Will pending UFA forwards Granlund and Smith exit Nashville? You’d have to think something has to give, right?

Long-term needs for Predators

In the grand scheme of things, it seems like the Predators will need to make the most of what they have. They’ve made a lot of long-term commitments, and while they might be able to bribe someone or find some other way to shake a Kyle Turris or two loose, they mostly have to hope that core pieces age well.

Maybe the biggest need is to find someone to optimize their roster, honestly.

I can’t say I’ve been overly impressed with John Hynes’ abilities in that regard, as I’m not among those who think it’s wise for coaches to galaxy brain things by putting star players in timeout.

From special teams struggles to forward play, there are significant signs that Nashville isn’t getting the most out of its talent. That needs to change.

Long-term strengths for Predators

The Predators rank as one of those regular contenders who show a decent knack for finding talent in crevasses despite trading away key picks. Nashville doesn’t match the Lightning in unearthing hidden gems, mind you, but they’re solid enough at it.

The result is that Nashville comes across reasonably well on various prospect rankings. Coming in at 22nd on Scott Wheeler’s system list for The Athletic (sub required) isn’t world-beating stuff, yet it points to the Predators being able to maybe fill in a crack or two with some prospects.

It paints a larger picture of solid versatility for Nashville.

Saros gives the Predators a goalie of the future, and maybe a strong one. He slipped a bit from elite backup work as Saros made it more of a platoon, but there are still some positive signs.

While their forward group disappointed in 2019-20, there’s enough to work with to be a better strength. It’s promising, in particular, that Filip Forsberg is deep in his prime at 25, and Viktor Arvidsson is 27.

Actually, that pivots to a key question: how long will some of these strengths last? If the Predators age well, it could be for a while. It depends upon how well their top defensemen (Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm are all 29), Matt Duchene (also 29), and Ryan Johansen (27) age.

If the answer hems closer to the Bruins than, say, the Kings, then the Predators could contend for quite a few years. You know, if they get back to getting the most out of players again.

MORE ON THE PREDATORS:
Breaking down their 2019-20 season
Biggest surprises and disappointments

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.