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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.

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