There will be a lot said about the forward match-up in this series from a variety of sources, but I'm guessing you'll see one consistent theme throughout. The Chicago Blackhawks have more top tier talent at the forward position, but the Phoenix Coyotes maybe have a little more depth in their third and fourth units. I definitely agree with the first part of that statement, and I mostly agree with the second part, although I don't think Chicago is exactly afraid of rolling four lines on any given night. After the jump, let's get a better feel for the offensive weapons that Coach Q will likely send against the Desert Dogs starting on Thursday.
|2011 - Jonathan Toews||59||29||28||57||17||28||5||1||4||185|
|2011 - Patrick Kane||82||23||43||66||7||40||4||0||5||253|
|2011 - Marian Hossa||81||29||48||77||18||20||9||2||4||248|
Certainly the most dangerous line that Chicago can offer, and possibly one of the most dangerous lines in all of the playoffs. These guys bring the run and gun while also being remarkably competent in their own zone. Captain Serious is the wild card here as he has been sidelined for almost a month with a probable concussion (don't believe the team has ever confirmed that it really was, but it was). He's a huge competitor and it's doubtful that he's not going to play if he believes he can lace them up. If he's even at 80-90% he adds a lot to this team as it's unquestioned leader. Kane and Hossa certainly aren't slouches either and both can create offensive chances and finish them with the best in the game. Expect this line to see a lot of the Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata - Ray Whitney line, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Adrian Aucoin or Rostislav Klesla, depending on how Tippett sets his pairings. Keeping the top line in check is going to be a key for the Coyotes to win this series.
|2011 - Marcus Kruger||71||9||17||26||11||22||0||0||1||89|
|2011 - Patrick Sharp||74||33||36||69||28||38||7||1||8||282|
|2011 - Viktor Stalberg||79||22||21||43||6||34||0||0||6||215|
Not to be confused with the Anaheim Ducks, the Blackhawks actually back up their top unit with a second unit that also has a lot of talent and has been playing extremely well as of late while the Hawks have been without Toews. The lynchpin here is Patrick Sharp, whom the Flyers never should have traded (stupid Matt Ellison), and has become a prolific goal scorer and general bad-ass in the league. With Stalberg (22 goals in only his second season) and Kruger (a solid season for the rookie pivot), this line gives the Blackhawks a consistent secondary threat to the top unit as these guys play well in the dirty areas of the ice and can create havoc for goaltenders and defenders playing down low - look no further than the perfect put back that Stalberg potted in the season finale against Detroit. Expect to see a lot of Antoine Vermette - Shane Doan - Mikkel Boedker lining up across from this unit.
|2011 - Dave Bolland||76||19||18||37||0||47||7||3||2||126|
|2011 - Andrew Shaw||37||12||11||23||-1||50||0||0||2||74|
|2011 - Bryan Bickell||71||9||15||24||-3||48||0||0||0||84|
The third line is a true checking unit with a bit of a knack for cashing in with a goal or two along the way (think the Boyd Gordon - Lauri Korpikoski - Taylor Pyatt line, but with more physicality). Shaw has been a fairly unexpected breakout for the Hawks with his rookie campaign,as the fairly small (5'10", 180 lb) forward scored 12 goals while adding 50 penalty minutes, including a fair number of fights along the way, including one with Kyle Chipchura during the February game at Glendale. But Dave Bolland is the real threat here as he has burned the Coyotes in the past with his solid 2-way play, and also has performed extremely well in the postseason, including a 16 point effort during Chicago's Cup run two years ago that included 2 power play and 2 shorthanded goals. Bolland missed the last two games of the season with an upper body injury, but should be back for game 1 on Thursday. Bickell is a big guy (6'4", 228 lbs) and led Chicago forwards in hits this season with 128. I think Tippett wouldn't mind matching his 4th unit (Daymond Langkow - Raffi Torres - Gilbert Brule) against this line when at home, but expect that Q will want this unit lining up to shut down the Prime Line in Chicago.
|2011 - Andrew Brunette||78||12||15||27||-13||4||4||0||0||75|
|2011 - Brandon Bollig||18||0||0||0||-2||58||0||0||0||16|
|2011 - Jamal Mayers||81||6||9||15||-4||91||0||0||1||70|
Not going to lie, I'm not sure we will see much of this unit throughout the series. Bollig is a rookie with good size and a propensity for throwing his weight around and getting into some fights. If Torres makes a questionable hit, expect Bollig to be the guy to take his number. Not to say that Mayers couldn't also fill that role effectively as well. Brunette actually has played more on the upper lines due to injuries, but for now looks like he will be centering this energy unit. I wouldn't be surprised if Michael Frolik gets into a few games if the Coyotes are able to get a lead in the series.
Some Quick Stats
Chicago was 5th overall in the league in goals scored with 241; of those goals, 217 were scored by Blackhawk forwards. That's 7 more goals than the Coyotes scored as a team all season. There is a lot of firepower coming from the Hawks front lines and the Coyotes are going to need to try and nullify that. The Hawks also had 5 players eclipse the 20 goal plateau on the season, so there were a lot of different players contributing. The Coyotes had only 3 players surpass 20 goals and have a fairly substantial drop off when you get past those top three guys of Shane Doan, Radim Vrbata and Ray Whitney.
The overall edge has to go to Chicago simply based on how good their top unit, and second unit, can be. It's no secret that the Coyotes lack a lot of top tier goal scorers/playmakers has been the team's achilles' heel at times. The Coyotes will need to play with a pack mentality and play their game (hockey the hard way) to withstand the offensive pressure that the Blackhawks will want to apply to the game. To minimize the edge, the Coyotes will need guys like Vermette, Boedker and Korpikoski to elevate their games the way they were doing for the last few games.