Off the Ice: Reliefs vs. Concerns in Coyotes vs. Predators
The Phoenix Coyotes and Nashville Predators faceoff Friday night in their opening game of Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. It's another winnable series, but the Coyotes will have to be even more disciplined than they were against the Blackhawks.
The Preds are very, very similar to the Coyotes. Both teams focus on defense-first hockey, rely on top-class goaltenders to keep games close and prefer to use a multitude of players to score rather than using just one or two lines.
I still, against slightly better judgement, have the Coyotes winning the series in seven, but expect it to be a nail-biter the entire way. If you think the Chicago series was evenly played, just wait until the Coyotes and Preds take the ice.
Concern: Pekka Rinne
A Vezina finalist and top NHL netminder, Predators goalie Pekka Rinne is the biggest thing in the way of the Coyotes advancing to the next round. Rinne posted the most wins (42) in the regular season and saved about 92 percent of the 2,153 shots he faced. He's good. Very good.
Relief: Slot opportunities
To beat Rinne, the Coyotes will need to focus on getting shots that Rinne simply doesn't have time to react to. Judging by their play against Chicago, the Coyotes have focused on getting the puck behind the net and feeding it into the slot. Those kind of bang-bang plays are one of the best ways to beat Rinne and the Coyotes will need a lot to beat the Predators.
Concern: Top defense
The Predators boast two of the top defensemen in the NHL in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Both can play shutdown defense. Both see a lot of ice time. But aside from the defense, both are offensive threats as well. Weber and Suter combined for 95 points this season and will look to get shots in from the point quite often on Mike Smith.
Relief: Coyotes forecheck
The Coyotes forecheck is one of the best in the NHL. With workhorse guys like Taylor Pyatt, Boyd Gordon and Lauri Korpikoski, the Coyotes will have to work to upset the Preds in their own zone and break up their offensive plays to keep Weber and Suter quiet from the blue line. While the Preds' top two are used to hard work while on the ice, a certain head slam from Weber shows the two are susceptible to frustration and, therefore, mistakes.
Concern: Predators scoring depth
The Predators, much like the Coyotes, rely on a multitude of players to score, rather than a few All-Stars accompanied by checking lines. The biggest threat, Alexander Radulov, put up five points in the previous series with the Detroit Red Wings. But then the depth kicks in. The Preds had 15 guys with at least one point in the last series, so the Coyotes will have to keep an eye on everyone in this series.
Relief: Coyotes discipline
The Coyotes, by far, have been the most-disciplined team in the playoffs. Their ability to stay focused and play their game against one of the top teams in the NHL -- Chicago -- shows how ready this team is to succeed on their own terms in the playoffs.
Again, this series is going to be close the entire way. A lot of pundits will likely blast the series as being boring and dull, but I'm expecting some incredible defensive efforts and, when a goal is scored, it will be all the more important.
I'm taking the Coyotes in a narrow seven game series, but with two comparable teams, a prediction may no be worth much this time around.