WCSF: Phoenix Coyotes vs Nashville Predators Series Preview: The Special Teams

April 14, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA; Phoenix Coyotes goalie Mike Smith (41) watches the puck while sprawled out on the ice as defenseman Michal Rozsival (32), center Boyd Gordon (15) and defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23) defend during the second period in game two of the 2012 Western Conference quarterfinals against the Chicago Blackhawks at Jobing.com Arena. The Blackhawks beat the Coyotes 4-3 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

This series matches up two of the top 10 penalty kill units in the NHL against the best and one of the worst power play units during the regular season. The Phoenix Coyotes have had the better special teams numbers in the postseason, but they also played a team with weaker special teams in round one than the Nashville Predators did. How do the two teams units match up against one another? Let's take a more detailed look.

Coyotes Power Play vs. Predators Penalty Kill

Phoenix's power play numbers during the regular season were awful (13.6%). They finished 29th in the NHL and as has been talked about ad nauseum here at Five for Howling, the Yotes PP unit is extremely inconsistent in almost every phase. In the first round their numbers improved as they scored on four of their nineteen power play opportunities. However, the improvement should be taken with a grain of salt. The four goals were scored in just two of the six games. Plus, the Blackhawks PK was weak all season and wasn't all that impressive in the postseason. Even so, the Coyotes struggled at times to get shots on goal on the power plays. If the Yotes can find a way to screen Pekka Rinne like Martin Hanzal screened Corey Crawford the other night then the Yotes have a chance at success.

Nashville's penalty kill was ranked tenth (83.6%) in the NHL during the regular season. Their PK percentage in their first round series (82.6%)was only slightly below their season mark. In addition, the Detroit's power play, as poor as it was this season, is still better on most nights than Phoenix's is. The Preds use their number one pairing of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter as their top PK pair as well. Paul Gaustad, acquired from Buffalo at the trade deadline, has become their go to PK center. Not a surprise given his ability to win draws. He's Boyd Gordon without the Adamantium skeleton. Expect to see a lot of winger Nick Spaling on the Nashville PK as well. The Preds gave up four shorthanded goals during the regular season which is two less than the Coyotes did.

Predators Power Play vs. Coyotes Penalty Kill

Nashville had the number one power play in the league during the regular season (21.6%). However, it didn't look that way in their series against Detroit scoring just two goals, both on the road (9.1%). The Weber-Suter pairing are also Barry Trotz's top choice on the power play. Weber scored one of the two PP goals against the Wings. His shot is not one you would want to block with any part of your body. As far as forwards on the power play, expect to see plenty of Martin Erat, Mike Fisher, Alexander Radulov, Patrick Hornqvist and David Legwand. Weber and Suter's ability to get good shot through from the point allow for not only good goals, but juicy rebounds as well. The Preds forwards normally crash the net extremely well.The Coyotes will have to be sure and tie men up in the crease and the slot after shots from the point.

Phoenix had the eighth best penalty kill (85.5%) in the NHL this past regular season. In the series against Chicago it was even better (94.7%). The saying goes that your best penalty killer is your goalie. While that may be true having a players like Rostislav Klesla and Boyd Gordan on your penalty kill sure doesn't hurt either. Klesla's dogged work along the boards, in corners, and in front of the crease has been outstanding all year. Gordon's faceoff prowess and superhuman ability to block shots over and over again has turned him into a cult hero in his first year in the Valley. The Predators power play will be a more formidable test for the Yotes PK unit than the Blackhawks extra man unit was. The other big concern for the Desert Dogs involves personnel. PK speed demon Lauri Korpikoski was injured in the series against the Hawks and looked nowhere near 100% in the final game of the series.

Looking Ahead

The special teams matchup in this series slightly favors the Predators assuming their power play reverts to regular season form. Just like they have all season, Phoenix will need to limit the opposition's power play chances by taking as few penalties as possible.

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