It’s time to take a good look at the Blackhawks first round opponents the Phoenix Coyotes. The Coyotes were the original Winnipeg Jets and could be the new Quebec Nordiques next year. This their 19th playoff appearence and have only won 2 playoff series and those were both while in Winnipeg. This will be the first ever playoff meeting between these two franchises.
The Coyotes finished the season 42-27-13 (97 points) and won the Pacific Division, their first division title in franchise history. Here is a look at some of their team leaders.
Leading Scorer: Ray Whitney 77 points (23 G, 54 A)
Most Goals: Radim Vrbata 35
Most Assists: Whitney 53
+/- Leader: Whitney +26
Most Penalty Minutes: Raffi Torres (shocking!) 83 PIM
Power Play Goals: Vrbata 9
Shorthanded Goals: Lauri Korpikowski 3
Game Winning Goals: Vrbata 12
The biggest story for the Coyotes has been the play of goalie Mike Smith. Smith had a horrible month of December going 3-6 with a 3.53 GAA and a .877 save %. Since February 1st Smith is 20-4-3 with a 1.52 GAA and .944 save %. Those are absolutely ridiculous numbers! Smith has been a major key for the Yotes considering they are 18th in scoring with a 2.56 goals per game average. This will be Smith’s 2nd taste of the post season. He went 1-1 with a 1.00 GAA and a .958 save % in 3 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning last year. Smith is a big goalie who covers up a lot of the net. The Hawks will have to be aware of his puck handling skills. Smith is very good with the puck and can catch a team napping and lead a rush going the other direction. Smith has been know to have some Luongo-esque stretches in his career where he has been very inconsistent. That has hindered him from becoming a starter, in his career, until the second half of this season. Smith is 3-0 versus the Blackhawks this season with a 1.30 GAA and a .959 save %. The Hawks are going to have to get to the crease, set screens and keep firing the puck. They can not afford to allow Smith to get comfortable in the crease.
The Coyotes have a good core of veterans up front. Not only do they have Whitney and Vrbata but they have the consistent Shane Doan, who has scored at least 20 goals for 11 straight seasons. After those top 3 there is a big drop off in point production. If the Blackhawks can contain these 3 players, and force the Yotes secondary players to produce, they will have a great chance in advancing.
Phoenix’s defensive core is lead by All Star Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larson. Yandle finished the year with 43 points (11 G, 32 A) which was 4th best on the team. Yandle is the Coyotes version of Duncan Keith. He is a great skater and loves to jump into the offensive play. The Hawks’ forwards are going to have to be aware of him at all times. His biggest weakness is his lack of size. The Hawks will need to try and get there bigger forwards on the ice with him and take advantage of the size difference. Larson chipped in with 13 goals from the blue line. He is another great skater that can use some more size. Let us not forget that the Yotes still employ the biggest disgrace to the Blackhawks captaincy, Adrian Aucoin. Aucoin is a smart veteran but he is vulnerable due to his lack of speed. He is the guy Viktor Stalberg needs to eat for lunch with his superior speed.
The Coyotes do play with a bit of an edge and have plenty of guys who are not afraid to mix it up. Kyle Chipchura, Rostoslav Klesla and Gilbert Brule will all clean your clock if you are not paying attention. Career long penis Raffi Torres will be on the ice for the Yotes. Don’t think for a second that Brent Seabrook has forgotten about Torres taking him out last year.
Phoenix has the 8th ranked penalty kill in the league which will be a problem for the offensively challenged Blackhawks power play. On the flip side the Coyotes have a power play even worse than the Hawks. No, I’m not yanking your chain, the Yotes converted only 13.6 % of their power plays into goals. Only the Dallas Star had a lower conversion rate in all the NHL. I feel it is save to say whichever team can get some production from its power play will get the upper hand in this series.
This will not be an easy series for the Blackhawks. Despite not having the talent, on paper, that the Hawks do, the Coyotes come in as one of the league’s hottest teams. They have the hottest goaltender on the planet right now. We’ve seen Phoenix goalies look great in the regular season only to wet themselves in the playoffs before. Ilya Bryzgalov I’m looking at you buddy! The Coyotes play with an edge and can match some of the speed of the Blackhawks. It will be a hard fought series but I am picking the Hawks to take it in 6 games. Let the playoffs begin!!