GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 10: Goaltender Mike Smith #41 of the Phoenix Coyotes is introduced before the NHL game against the San Jose Sharks at Jobing.com Arena on March 10, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Sharks 3-0. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Greeting Phoenix Coyotes fans. In this edition of the Roundtable we talk about the road games left on Phoenix's schedule, what team the Yotes likely don't want to face come the playoffs, and story lines around the NHL. This week the FFH staff is joined for the second time this season by special guest Luke Lapinski. Luke is currently in his fourth season as radio host for the Coyotes. In addition to listening to his work on radio broadcasts, you can also follow him on Twitter.
The Coyotes have seven road games left this season. What are your expectations for the team's record in those seven games?
Luke: Well, if we're operating under the assumption that they need to hit 94 points to make the playoffs, that means they need to pick up at least 15 of a possible 24 points down the stretch. In other, less mathematical terms, they need to win more often than they lose. I think that extends to the road as well. They probably need to pick up a minimum of eight out of the 14 possible road points to get where they want to go. If they dip under that, they really need to be dominant when they're at Jobing.
Who they pick those points up against might even be more important. There's no rule that says a team needs exactly 94 points to break into the playoffs -- or even that 94 will definitively be enough. That's why you have to take points from your closest competitors at every opportunity. The Coyotes have been good at beating the teams that are right around them in the standings, and that trend has to continue. Along those lines, the games in Calgary, Dallas and San Jose are vital. Those are the teams they'll be fighting with for a playoff spot -- and possibly the Pacific Division title -- so those are essentially four point games. Unfortunately for Phoenix, that Calgary game comes just 24 hours after they face-off with the Canucks in Vancouver, but those are the breaks. If nothing else, at least the Coyotes have experience playing in these back-to-back scenarios this year.
The Dude: I am guessing 4-1-2.
Jordan: Looking at the games themselves it's not exactly the type of cake walk you'd like to see...trip through western Canada, Dallas, San Jose, St. Louis and Minny. I'd be happy to see them take 10 of 14 points in that stretch, but anything over .500 should be good enough if they take care of their home ice the rest of the way in.
Carl: I would expect wins against the Alberta teams, San Jose, and Minnesota and maybe a shootout loss to the Stars. That would give Phoenix 9 out of a possible 14 points. Of course, it likely won't happen this way. The one big positive about the team going on the road is their special teams perform better away from home.
Which team, of those currently in the top four places in the Western Conference standings, would you wish for the Coyotes to be able to avoid this postseason?
Luke: I think the answer here has to be Detroit. Part of me wants to see Shane Doan and Co. get a shot at revenge for how the last two seasons ended, and there's no better way to gain some respect from the NHL community than by ousting the Red Wings in the playoffs. But, if given the choice, I'd rather avoid Detroit in the first round. Mike Babcock uses the whole season as preparation for the playoffs. I think they're a much more beatable team in the second or third round than they are in the first.
Beyond that, I like the Coyotes' chances against some of the other top teams. With all due respect to Dallas, I think a very strong case can be made that Phoenix has outplayed them all five times they've met this season. In fact, if the Coyotes had held on to those last second leads in the first two games against the Stars, Phoenix would be well into first place in the Pacific right now. But talking about that gives me a headache so let's move on...
St. Louis is an extremely underrated team, but they haven't been to the postseason in three years and haven't won a playoff game since before the lockout. That experience matters. I think a series with the Blues would be very entertaining because the Coyotes would be the more seasoned playoff team for once. Vancouver would obviously be tough as well -- especially because that would mean four to seven games of hearing their fans chant "Loouuu" every time Roberto Luongo got within 10 feet of the puck. The West is brutal this season. Any opponent that earns their way in will be a difficult out. But the Coyotes play a style of hockey that is very conducive to success this time of year when they're firing on all cylinders.
The Dude: Blues, Red Wings, and Canucks. They are teams that we have so far tend to win more against the Coyotes then they lose. I would not mind seeing them play against Dallas, that would be a pretty interesting and to be completely honest I would like to see Dallas make a slide down and the Yotes end up playing one of the bottom four.
Jordan: I think I've made my feelings on this pretty clear - anyone but Detroit. Not that they can't win that series, but I'd just rather not do it again. Given how the beginning of March went, though, I'll just be happy with postseason hockey regardless of the opponent.
Carl: The Blues by a country mile. It has little to do with their recent play that has propelled them to the top spot in the Western Conference and everything to do with how they match up against the Coyotes. The Desert Dogs are 0-2 against the Blues with both losses coming after Kent Hitchcock took over in St, Louis as coach. The Blues play a suffocating defensive style now combined with a lineup that is more skilled than many may realize. While many of the young players on the club have little to no postseason experience, they have older vets like Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner who have won Stanley Cups.
Besides the Western Conference playoff race, what other NHL story lines are you planning to follow during the last month of the season?
Luke: To me, the biggest one is how Sidney Crosby fares in his return. If he and Kris Letang recover, that Pittsburgh Penguins squad could be truly dominant. We saw the Coyotes play them close on March 5, but that's one of the few times they've actually been tested in the last month -- and they're doing it shorthanded. But more than just seeing how good that team could be, I want to see Crosby healthy and back on the ice again. It makes the league better when it's best players are actually playing. The same can be said for Jonathan Toews. I don't necessarily want to see Chicago go on a run and start rattling off wins, but I'd prefer Toews was playing.
I also want to see if Florida can hang on and make it to the postseason. My gut feeling is that they'll get caught from behind, but I'll be watching -- partially because they haven't made the playoffs since the turn of the century and partially because I like seeing the teams from "non-traditional" markets have success. There's nothing wrong with fans from cities where it doesn't snow 8 months of the year getting to enjoy hockey too. It helps the sport grow.
The Dude: I am interested to see if the Blues' standing becomes a major news story. They are leading the league right now and you hardly ever hear about them. The 8th place in the East is also probably going to be pretty interesting, Washington has the spot now but Winnipeg, Buffalo and Tampa Bay are pretty close so that is probably going to be interesting.
Jordan: Obviously I think the biggest story in the NHL will be the return (or lack thereof) of Sidney Crosby. I've never been his biggest fan, but he undeniably is a force to be reckoned with and changes the entire complexion of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The battle to be the 3rd seed in the East should also be something to watch closely as it seems as if none of the teams actually want it and other than Carolina none of the teams in the Southeast are out of it. And of course, as a Flyers fan, I'll be curious to see whether the Ilya Bryzgalov that's been in the net for March continues to show up and silence questions about goaltending in Philly for the playoffs this year. Let us pursue more interesting questions like, what the heck is going on with Danny Briere?
Carl: As a Caps fan it goes without saying the storyline I'll be paying the most attention to is the fight for the South East Division title/eighth spot in the East. However, there are plenty more. How Sidney Crosby's return might affect the Penguins chances to grab the top spot in the East? Will Ray Whitney reach the 1,000 point plateau before the end of the season?