For the 7th time since moving to Phoenix, the Coyotes will make a playoff appearance seeking their first series win in the desert. Two of the previous six attempts have been foisted by their opponents this spring, as Detroit ousted them in both 1998 and 2010. The Coyotes’ gameplan hasn’t changed much, with a strong focus on team defense and an everybody-chip-in-a-few offense, while the Big Red Machine from the Motor City continues the longest playoff streak in North American sports, having reached their 20th consecutive postseason.
Offense: Detroit will be without leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg for at least Game 1, and the Coyotes will take every advantage they can get over their more-heralded foes. The Wings scored 30 more goals this season than Phoenix, and boast seven 45+ point scorers and four 20+ goal scorers. Only Shane Doan hit the 20-goal mark for the ‘Yotes, but they do have seven other players with more than 15 goals. The Wings clearly have the edge up front, both in sheer talent and playoff experience, as numerous Wings have Cup rings.
Defense: The Wings are usually one of the most complete end-to-end teams in the league as they place a heavy emphasis on playing good systematic hockey, but their defensive zone play has struggled a bit of late. The Coyotes thrive on defense, and have one of the most complete bluelines in the game, featuring offensive breakout defenseman Keith Yandle and standout youngster Oliver Ekman-Larsson alongside vets like Derek Morris, Ed Jovanoski and freshly acquired Rostislav Klesla. However, it’s difficult to argue against any blueline that features the ageless Nicklas Lidstrom, as well as veterans like Niklas Kronwall and Brian Rafalski.
Goaltending: The biggest question mark for Detroit may be in net, where Jimmy Howard had a bit of an off year. You could do alot worse than a 2.79 GAA and 37 wins, but with Ilya Bryzgalov playing in what could be his last season in Phoenix, you can bet the Russian will, as always, bring his A-game. Bryzgalov nearly stole the series from Detroit last year, but was overwhelmed in Game 7. When he’s on top of his game, he can be damn near unbeatable, while Howard looks like he’ll continue to develop into the typically more-than-capable, above-average, fit-the-system Detroit keeper.
Special Teams: There’s no question that the Wings hold the edge here, both with the man advantage and when killing one off. Their powerplay converted more than 22% of its opportunities, while the Coyotes’ 26th-ranked PK allowed 64 goals, more than any other playoff team. The Coyotes will have to solve their PK issues if they hope to stand a chance in the playoffs, especially against a systematic team like Detroit with patient veterans speckled throughout the zone waiting to take advantage of careless play. Phoenix was only marginally better with the man advantage, ranking 23rd overall in powerplay efficiency.
The odds on paper seem to favor Detroit, but the Coyotes rarely look good in any matchup’s eye test. Led by last year’s Jack Adams Award winner Dave Tippet, they always seem to get the job done (except in the postseason). You gotta root for a club that has so many distractions going on off the ice, and while it will certainly be a trying task, I think this could finally be the year the Coyotes make it out of the first round. It will take a heroic effort from Bryzgalov and just about everyone else on the roster, but I’m going out on a limb and taking the upset here, as long as they can close it out at home. Detroit at home in a Game 7 is a tough bet not to take.
Editor’s Pick: Phoenix in 7
Tags: Brian Rafalski Derek Morris Detroit Red Wings Ed Jovanoski Henrik Zetterberg Ilya Bryzgalov Jimmy Howard Keith Yandle Nicklas Lidstrom Niklas Kronwall Oliver Ekman-Larsson Phoenix Coyotes Shane Doan