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DDB: Five things to watch during Coyotes vs. Preds

GLENDALE – On the eve of Game 1 of the Western Conference
Semifinals between the Coyotes and the Nashville
Predators, here are five things to keep an eye on as this
series unfolds:

1. DUELING GOALIES: This series features two of the NHL’s
top goalies in Mike Smith and Pekka Rinne. Both ranked in
the top 10 in the League this season in games played,
wins, save percentage and shutouts. Rinne recently was
named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy and deservedly so.
Smith was left off that list but was outstanding this
season nonetheless. Knowing how competitive Smith is, I
expect him to play with a chip on his shoulder and looking
to one-up his counterpart in the other goal.

2. SEEING STARS: The Coyotes beat the Chicago Blackhawks
in the conference quarterfinals despite the fact they
received only two goals and four assists, collectively,
from their top three scorers in the regualr season: Ray
Whitney, Radim Vrbata and Shane Doan. That simply won’t
cut it against a defensive-minded team such as Nashville
and Doan, for one, knows it. “We definitely think there is
another level we need to get to,” Doan said. “You look at
the forwards up front and we got unbelievable
contributions from everyone who stepped up and did their
jobs. But nobody really went beyond what you expect of
them. Now we need guys to go beyond what you expect of
them. That’s what the playoffs are all about.”

3. POSSESSING THE PUCK: The Coyotes advanced to the
conference semifinals despite being outshot, 241-159, by
the Blackhawks in the quarterfinals. Without question,
Phoenix must possess the puck more vs. Nashville so Smith
doesn’t have to face 40.2 shots per game as he did vs.
Chicago. Coyotes G.M. Don Maloney said it succinctly when
he said: “They’ve got depth everywhere in their lineup and
they’ve got a terrific goaltender (so) we’re going to have
to find a way to have the puck more and get more pucks on
net. It’s a challenge.”

4. SIMILAR STYLES: The Coyotes and Predators are known
around the NHL as little engines that could, if you will.
As small-market teams with modest payrolls, the clubs are
known for being well-coached teams that succeed because of
hard work as opposed to teams that succeed because of
their elite-level talent. The question is which team will
prevail in a seven-game series between teams so alike, and
what will be the keys to success for that team. Maloney
said he’s eager to watch it unfold. “We really are mirror
images of each other. We play a similar style; very good
defense, good work ethic… this will be an interesting

5. MAKING HOME SWEETER: The Coyotes have reached new
heights this season by reaching the conference semifinals
for the first time since moving to Arizona in 1996. To
take the story further, Phoenix will somehow have to
improve on its home record in the postseason. The Coyotes
have won only two of nine playoff games played at Arena the past three seasons and with home-ice
advantage in hand in this series – and possibly the next
one if they win and Los Angeles beats St. Louis – they
will have to start winning more often in Glendale.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Contact Dave Vest at
and follow him on
Twitter @davest4yotes.

For information on upcoming Phoenix Coyotes games, please