As Yogi Berra might say, it's like deja vu all over again. The Phoenix Coyotes, amid all the off-ice drama, play fantastic hockey on the ice and earn a playoff spot for the second consecutive year and as a prize they get to face the Detroit Red Wings...ugh. Is it a perfect match-up...no. However, the Coyotes have shown all season that they bring out their best performances against their best competition. Looking at the match-up at its baseline level, what are the keys to the series and who holds the edge? Read along and find out. And for the Wings perspective, be sure to check out our sister site Winging It In Motown (or better yet if you are a Wings fan, just do the majority of your posting there, mkay).
#30 / Goalie / Phoenix Coyotes
Jun 22, 1980
|2010 - Ilya Bryzgalov||68||4060||36||20||168||2.48||2125||1957||.921||7|
What's to be said about the Russian Bear. Ilya Bryzgalov cleaned up at the team awards ceremony this year and for good reason. Bryz followed up his incredible season last year with an equally impressive one this year, including making over 150 more saves in 24 fewer minutes than last year. Sometimes this year it has seemed the defense has hung Bryz out to dry, but certainly the recent play with a fully healthy top six have helped (more on that later). Bryz is the single most important player in this series for either team and if he is on his game, he could lead the Coyotes to the win.
After the jump, a look at Jimmy Howard, the offense, defense, special teams and miscellaneous info.
#35 / Goalie / Detroit Red Wings
Mar 26, 1984
|2010 - Jimmy Howard||63||3615||37||17||168||2.79||1830||1662||.908||2|
Jimmy Howard's numbers certainly aren't as impressive as Bryz's (nor as his phenomenal rookie season numbers from last year). To read the Detroit fans' account, his overall play is better, but he has been hung out to dry a bit more by his defense. The postseason series with Phoenix last year saw a bit of everything from Howard - he gave up some juicy rebounds and weak goals, but then shut things down in other games when the Coyotes were swarming. For the Coyotes to have success, then they will need to keep driving players to the net to create traffic and cash in on some of those rebounds (and not trying to avoid making contact this year, Shane!).
#3 / Defenseman / Phoenix Coyotes
Sep 09, 1986
|2010 - Keith Yandle||82||11||48||59||12||68||3||0||0||199|
That Yandle finished second on the team in scoring and third overall among all NHL defensemen while posting a +12 rating and averaging over 24 minutes of ice time per game. To say that it's been a breakout season for Yandle would be an understatement; he's gone from unknown outside of the desert to Norris Trophy candidate, and it's fairly well deserved attention. While Yandle's offensive prowess will certainly be essential for the Coyotes, what may be even more important is how the core of defensive d-men can withstand the pressure of the Detroit forwards.
The Coyotes no longer have stalwart block shot machine Zbynek Michalek, but certainly have a solid core of blue line big men in Adrian Aucoin, Ed Jovanovski, Rostislav Klesla and Michal Rozsival. What these guys will have the charge of doing is keeping Tomas Holmstrom and Todd Bertuzzi from setting up shop in front of Bryz and preventing him from being the difference maker he can be. If they can contribute on the other side of the ice, more power to them. On the whole, while losing Z certainly didn't help the team, they've been better recently and are finally getting their entire top 6 healthy just in time for the playoffs.
#5 / Defenseman / Detroit Red Wings
Apr 28, 1970
|2010 - Nicklas Lidstrom||82||16||46||62||-2||20||7||0||1||175|
It's only when a player is as consistently dominant that one will look at these types of numbers and say it's an off year. Unfortunately, when you are already on the wrong side of 40, those comments can become even stronger and it becomes the dreaded "downside" of a career. While I think talks of Lidstrom's demise are greatly overblown, there is no arguing (at least no serious arguing, I think) that his best days are behind him. What he lacks now in speed and youth, though, he can generally make up in wily veteran knowledge. However, the Coyotes will be looking to try and make Lidstrom feel all of those 41 years while they use their speed to rush around the corners. Lidstrom is still the premier power play quarterback, however, and the Coyotes will also need to limit that part of his game to some extent (probably with a face full of Vernon Fiddler at every opportunity).
Supporting Lidstrom on the Detroit blue line are Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart and some younger d-men. Solid players, capable of playing fast tempo hockey and (at least in the case of Kronwall) throwing some big body checks. But they are also prone to some defensive breakdowns and that's one of the reasons Howard has struggled more this season and the Wings ranked only 23rd in the league in goals against, with 241 on the season (or 2.9/game).
Edge: Even - I think most people will give the edge to Detroit for the experience and Lidstrom factors, but I see these units as fairly evenly matched overall.
#19 / Left Wing / Phoenix Coyotes
Oct 10, 1976
|2010 - Shane Doan||72||20||40||60||5||67||11||0||6||221|
Is there a single player that best represents his team in the entire league than Captain Coyote? Is there anyone on either squad that is not more anxious for this series than Doan after his unfortunate injury in game 3 last year forced him out of his first playoff series in 8 seasons? Doan has been playing like a man possessed since February, logging ice time usually reserved for top defenseman on a nightly basis. He was the team's leading point scorer for the season despite missing ten games and will be ready to get physical at the drop of the first puck. By the end of the first period, I'd imagine he will be the most hated player in Detroit.
Supporting Doan on his line are Eric Belanger and Ray Whitney, and both have excelled in their first season in the Valley of the Sun. While there are few stars to the Coyotes' forward squad, they did have eleven players tally double digit goals for the year, including a career year for speedy all-purpose forward Lauri Korpikoski. What the Coyotes lack in offensive upside, they make up for in defensive responsibility as Coach Tippett is willing to send any of his top three lines out to face just about any line from the opposition squad, thus limiting Mike Babcock's line matching advantage for games in Detroit. Will the pack mentality be enough and will the roll players step up and be the difference makers in this series?
#13 / Center / Detroit Red Wings
Jul 20, 1978
|2010 - Pavel Datsyuk||56||23||36||59||11||15||6||1||5||137|
Oh what Coach Tippett wouldn't do for a Pavel Datsyuk. Heck, what any coach wouldn't do for him. He's quite possibly the best all-around forward in the NHL and definitely the player of most concern as a Coyotes fan (probably because he tends to demolish our team seemingly at will. With Detroit's leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg's status still uncertain for the season (and with a knee injury, just coming back isn't always the end of the story), the Coyotes may have caught a small break. However, Datsyuk alone makes up for any perceived advantage and there's plenty of support to be seen.
Other than Pavel, the guys that tend to cause the most trouble for the Coyotes are the twin towers of Holmstrom and Bertuzzi. Neither are particularly likeable (if you're not a fan of Detroit at least) and if they are allowed to play their game and bump and nudge Bryz a bit in his crease and get him off his game, the Coyotes are in big trouble. Johan Franzen is another player that the Coyotes can ill afford to awaken as he's been in an extended rut for the last few months. The point is, though, that Detroit will roll several talented lines at the Coyotes that will be a handful on the best of days. The good news, the Coyotes have generally done fairly well getting that job done.
Edge: Red Wings
Honestly, my biggest worry is that this becomes a special teams battle. If there is one area that the Coyotes simply don't even come close to matching up, it's on the power play and penalty kill. On the year, Phoenix ranked 23rd with the man advantage (15.9%) and 26th on the penalty kill (78.4%). Those numbers are just not going to get it done. The power play has looked better than it has been able to perform of late, but the Coyotes still fail to get confidently set up if they lose the opening draw and are most easily flustered by teams that put heavy pressure on the puck handler in the offensive zone (a strategy that I have no doubt we will see Babcock utilize).
On the flip side, Detroit has one of the best power play's in the league converting at a 22.3% clip (5th in the league), while their penalty kill unit is slightly worse than average at 82.3% (17th in the league). Both are much better than the Coyotes and add up to a basic tent of the series for the Coyotes - stay out of the box! Make Detroit play five on five hockey as much as possible because that is where the Coyotes generally are at their best (let's not even get started with four on four play...ugh!).
Edge: Red Wings (big time)
Ah, the dreaded intangible category. Who really knows what issues these are and if they make any difference. The Coyotes are fighting for a beleaguered fanbase that has been dumped on by the national and international media for over two years and still don't have a new owner to show for it with the asinine contingent at the Goldwater Institute still mucking about screwing the sale. That they keep it out of the room at all is remarkable, but is it finally starting to get to the guys or is it still that central rallying cry for the team to pull together? With players that are young or simply unused to playoff success will the challenge allow them to find that extra spark to achieve greatness or stand in their path.
The Coyotes have only two players that have won a Stanley Cup ring (Bryz and Whitney) while the Red Wings could almost put out an entire starting line-up of guys with 3 or more (Datsyuk only has two ruining my whole unit). Will that experience allow the Red Wings to channel their energy in smarter manners, or will it make them complacent in 20 consecutive playoff appearances and ripe for a takedown at the hands of a scrappy Coyotes bunch. It's been five seasons since Detroit got bounced in the first round, but it was a more common affair before that. Will this be the year that the tinfoil hat society once again has their panties in a bunch after a first round disappointment?
Who knows? I certainly don't. All I know is that I hope I don't have to sit next to some idiot kid at Jobing.com who never lived in Detroit and doesn't even remember when the team was fairly crappy in the late 1980s and hadn't won anything in a long time...all the while preaching about Gordie Howe and the other Wings legends while wearing a Winter Classic throwback jersey with the tags still on. Because I'll likely punch that kid.
So there you have it, a quick and dirty look at these two teams matching up for the second consecutive season. For the Coyotes, a first playoff series win is on the line; for Detroit, it's Stanley Cup or bust every year so getting bounced now is far from their dream. I'll stick to what I've said elsewhere: I think the Coyotes get it done this time with a healthy and highly motivated Shane Doan leading the charge and a dominant Ilya Bryzgalov backstopping them to greatness. Desert Dogs in 6.