Coyotes insider Richard Morin and Predators insider Paul Skrbina dive into the first round matchup. Both reporters share their thoughts on how each team will fare with the NHL return.
There’s wasn’t much eating as the Coyotes met for breakfast at the Sutton Hotel in Edmonton on Saturday.
Instead, the team was fixated on the TV screen, taking in the first postseason game of the expanded 24-team format between the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers.
“We’ve been following it,” Coyotes forward Lawson Crouse said of the nonstop NHL action. “Throughout the hotel, there’s TVs everywhere with the games on. I know a lot of us were watching that New York-Carolina game there and you could feel the intensity from the first shift. A couple big hits, an early goal, an early fight.
“I think everyone is excited and has been looking forward to this moment for a long time. Just being a professional athlete, I think that’s our competitive nature taking over.”
Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet took notice of his team’s attention on playoff intensity. For Tocchet, who has won two Stanley Cups as a coach and one as a player, it was a good sign for a Coyotes team that is largely untested when it comes to playoff hockey.
“I think it’s an individual thing,” Tocchet said. “Usually in the playoffs, you see the atmosphere around it. But we had a team breakfast this morning and everyone is watching the game (between the Rangers and Hurricanes) and nobody is really eating; they’re all watching. There was a lot of hitting and you could see the buzz from the guys. The players, they know there’s a playoff game tomorrow for us.”
Tocchet is hoping his team displays that same buzz when the Coyotes drop the puck on a best-of-five series against the Nashville Predators on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. Arizona time.
“For me, this is everything,” Tocchet said. “Sure the money is great, but to me this is why you play. It’s the competition, Whether as a player or a coach, I thrive on the competition. I’m excited about it.”
The Coyotes have known the identity of their qualifying-round opponent for weeks. As a result, the coaching staff has exhaustively prepared to counter the Predators’ tendencies.
With one practice remaining before Game 1, Tocchet wants his players to cool down and take it all in. It’s a method Tocchet has adopted from his days as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“Just a quick, nice practice,” Tocchet said of the plan for Saturday’s skate. “Touching the puck, getting shots and touches. There won’t be any system stuff of game-planning. I think we’ve done enough of that. Now it’s just about going out and enjoying a half-hour together before the game and enjoy yourselves. Work on a few things.
“I think it calms people down, too. You don’t want to think about the game tomorrow today. I think you just want to have a good practice, joke around and have a good time with your teammates.”
Preparing for Nashville
The Coyotes and Predators come into the series as fairly evenly-matched opponents. Still, the Predators possess certain attributes the Coyotes will have to take seriously.
The most immediate of those will be the challenge of countering the Predators’ top defensive duo of Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis, two of the top blueliners in the league.
“I think it’s no secret,” Crouse said of the Predators’ biggest strength. “Those top two guys take up a lot of their ice time. We need to do everything we can to make it tough on those guys. They both like to jump up in the play, they like to join the rush. Any chance we have to play the body on them, tire them out, make it difficult on them … I think that’s going to be huge.”
The Predators also possess a formidable goaltending duo in longtime starter Pekka Rinne and a promising youngster in Juuse Saros. Predators head coach David Hines has not yet named his starter for Game 1, but both netminders were impressive in Nashville’s 2-0 exhibition win over the Dallas Stars.
“I though they played a good game, a really good hockey game,” Tocchet said. “They looked like a focused hockey club and you can tell they’ve got veterans who have been there before. They’re serious and we expect that.”
‘Don’t shy away’
Tocchet said another of the team’s focal points in practice has been on the importance of embracing the inherent pressure consistent with playoff hockey.
“The game plan is set and it’s been set for a while,” Tocchet said. “Now it’s about execution, focus level, and each individual rising to the challenge. Whoever dresses, you need everybody. I told the players today that there are going to be runs of penalties and runs of power plays, so some guys might have to sit on the bench for four or five minutes. You’ve got to the ready on that sixth shift. I think some of our older players have been trying to prepare our younger players for that. These situations can be uncomfortable. There’s not always a flow to playoff hockey and you’ve got to be ready when there’s not a flow. That’s really what playoff hockey is.
“It’s pressure, right? I believe you have to handle pressure when you take pressure on. You want to get to that pressure; don’t shy away. It starts with the first shift. Our team has to accept the heat and the pressure. That’s the best way to relieve the pressure.”
How to watch
Coyotes at Predators
When: 11 a.m.
Where: Rogers Place, Edmonton, Albert, Canada
TV: USA Network, NHL Network, FSAZ
Coyotes projected lineup
Taylor Hall—Christian Dvorak—Conor Garland
Carl Soderberg—Nick Schmaltz*—Phil Kessel
Lawson Crouse—Derek Stepan—Clayton Keller
Vinnie Hinostroza—Brad Richardson—Christian Fischer
Oliver Ekman-Larsson—Jason Demers
Jakob Chychrun—Alex Goligoski
Jordan Oesterle—Niklas Hjalmarsson
Notes: Schmaltz* is questionable for Game 1 after he was hit in the head during an exhibition game against the Vegas Golden Knights. Schmaltz was experiencing neck stiffness on Friday and was going to attempt to practice on Saturday. If Schmaltz is unable to play, it is likely that rookie Barrett Hayton would take his spot in the lineup.
Predators projected lineup
Filip Forsberg—Ryan Johansen—Viktor Arvidsson*
Kyle Turrs—Matt Duchene—Mikael Granlund
Rocco Grimaldi—Nick Bonino—Craig Smith
Calle Jarnkrok—Colton Sissons—Colin Blackwell
Roman Josi—Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm—Dante Fabbro
Dan Hamhius—Jarred Tinordi
Notes: Arvidsson* collided with a Dallas Stars player in an exhibition game and appeared to injure his knee, but he returned to the ice before the end of the game and is probable for Game 1.
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