Greeting Phoenix Coyotes Fans. Welcome to another edition of the Five for Howling Roundtable. In this week's edition, we look ahead to the playoffs and. We once again have a special guest joining us this week. This week's special guest is Sarah McLellan, sports reporter for the Arizona Republic. In addition to reading her articles in the paper or at AZCentral, you can also follow her on Twitter.
Four weeks ago we asked the question: "Which team, currently below the seventh spot in the Western Conference, should Phoenix fear the most and why?" Now that a fair amount of time and the trade deadline have passed we want to revisit the topic. What team do you think the Coyotes should fear the most of the teams fighting it out for the final playoff spots in the West?
Sarah: The Los Angeles Kings. This team, on paper, is a playoff squad. The Kings have a solid goaltender in Jonathan Quick, a steady blue line led by Drew Doughty and they're finally starting to put the puck in the net a little bit more. Jeff Carter's offense will help greatly, and that chemistry with Mike Richards might help them nab one of the final spots in the Western Conference.
Jordan: I think the Sharks are still the most dangerous team behind the Coyotes right now. Their poor play, combined with the Coyotes excellent play got them to switch positions, but now we'll have to see if each team regresses towards their expectations. The nice thing is that when you're out in front, you control your own destiny, so the Coyotes just need to start winning again.
The Dude: Now that the Coyotes are on top of the Division, they really need to focus on the other teams in the Pacific Division. Since San Jose is starting to slip a little I would say that Dallas is the team that the Coyotes should fear the most. They came back against the Flames on Sunday, and they are doing really making a push for the lead of the Division. That being said the Sharks could always come back and make a run at it. To be honest the Coyotes need to play every team like they are the one thing standing between them and the playoffs, the division title, and the Cup if they need to play like they want to win.
Carl: I think it is all about the Pacific Division teams. As I said four weeks ago, the Stars are the team that scares me the most. However, the one team that improved the most at the deadline in the West was the Kings. Getting rid of Jack Johnson and adding Jeff Carter improved their playoff chances. I still don't think the Avs, Flames, or Wild have enough horses to slip in.
Is David Rundblad the answer to the Coyotes power play woes?
Sarah: Rundblad doesn't make the power play worse, but I don't know if he alone can improve its production. He's a defenseman who can man the point and has solid vision of the ice and while that's an important piece of a great power play unit, the Coyotes need more than that. They need shooters on the half-boards, movement down low and someone to wreak havoc in the blue paint. Finding the personnel to complete those responsibilities will likely be the key.
Jordan: I doubt that any one player is the answer to the power play issues, but he certainly can't hurt, right? With the Coyotes, I don't like using a 4-forward unit on the power play, so anything that gets an extra defenseman out there is fine with me. If David Schlemko can come back, I wouldn't mind seeing units of Whitney-Hanzal-Vrbata-OEL-Rundblad and Doan-Langkow-Korpikoski-Yandle-Schlemko for your two sets. I think the biggest issue for the Coyotes is to simplify their game and just play as if it was still 5-on-5.
The Dude: Is he the only answer to the power play woes? Of course not. He may very well become an important part of the power play but he the Coyotes power play has a few problems that are going to need to be addressed, and adding one player isn't going to fix all those problems.
Carl: He's a part of the solution, but not all of it. The Coyotes puck movement on the power play is much better when Rundblad is on the ice. In addition, he does a good job of skating with the puck and finding shooting lanes. The power play is the one part of his game that has been NHL ready. On the other hand, he's not going to solve the zone entry issues that seem to pop up every couple of games, screen the goalie, handle every pass, or be expected to bury rebounds. If anything, I suspect we won't see all he has to offer until next season when he'll be able to be fully integrated.
This week we've got a question from one of our site members, Rob1966. He asks, what is it going to take for the team to make it to the second round?
Sarah: The last few playoff seasons, the Coyotes have lacked steady goaltending and that might be enough to get them past the first round. Already this season Mike Smith has stolen a handful of games for the Coyotes and if he can do that in the playoffs, the Coyotes could be tough to beat. Obviously timely offense and sound defense will also play a role, but this team's success starts from the back out. If Smith is on his game, the rest of the team usually follows suit.
Jordan: A combination of things: a favorable match-up, outstanding goaltending, defense that clears rebounds out from in front of the net, passes that go tape-to-tape, timely secondary scoring, the prime line performing as expected and lots and lots of luck. The playoffs are a huge crapshoot and even when everything looks like it's going right, a bad hop can change everything. Do the Coyotes need everything I've listed above, not really - but they will need each element at some point in time and whether luck dictates that they get them as needed, that will determine whether the Coyotes are dancing into the second round.
The Dude: To be honest I'm not sure, but I think that it's going to take a little bit of luck, a lot of skill, not playing Detroit, momentum, and home ice advantage wouldn't hurt either. It would be nice to go into it without any injured players too. I would also really like to play a team in the first round that we have a positive record against, a team like Chicago.
Carl: I'm still more concerned with the team making the playoffs, but for the sake of argument I'll assume they will. They need a team they match-up well with (in other words not St. Louis) and a healthy roster. The Yotes likely would have made it into the second round in 1999 and/or 2010 if they hadn't lost Jeremy Roenick and Shane Doan respectively to injury. As Sarah mentioned above, steady goaltending is also needed.