In the last of our Blackhawks vs Coyotes series previews we look at special teams. Only one of the four units involved could actually be termed 'special' at the moment. Of course, in a short 7 game playoff series involving only one opponent that could change. Just two years ago, an anemic Phoenix power play improved enough in the postseason to score 6 power play goals against the Red Wings. However, if you think the team's regular season stats mirror what we'll see in the series then you might want to change the channel during power plays.
Coyotes Power Play vs. Blackhawks Penalty Kill
This match-up pits two of the worst special teams units in the NHL this year against one another. The likely winner will be the team that is slightly less than awful. The Coyotes power play has been underwhelming to say the least during Dave Tippett's time as coach in Phoenix. The team has lacked a true PP QB and its lack of high end skill hurts in terms of being able to finish. The Yotes only converted on 13.6% (29th in the NHL) of their opportunities during the regular season. They were slightly better at home than on the road (14.3% vs. 12.7%), but anyway you slice it the numbers were bad. The Dogs seem to have different issues every PP shift, so pinning down one thing they need to improve on is next to impossible.
The other concern for Phoenix is allowing other teams shorthanded opportunities. The Coyotes allowed 6 shorthanded goals this past season, as well as numerous other short handed opportunities that weren't converted. Mike Smith isn't a great one on one goalie, so limited those types of opportunities has to be a priority for Phoenix. If they aren't going to score on the PP they at least need to not turn the puck over. The Hawks PK scored 7 shorthanded goals this past season which should a large concern for the Desert Dogs.
The Blackhawks PK numbers are almost as bad as the Coyotes' power play numbers. The Hawks killed penalties at a rate of only 78.1% (27th in the NHL). Chicago's reliance on their first pairing Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to play in every situation because of the lack of defensive depth on the team likely doesn't help matters. It seems like they are constantly on the ice and lack of rest and penalty kill play is usually a crappy recipe. The addition of Johnny Oduya at the trade deadline has helped out on the Hawks blueline including on the PK. Oduya is physical presence and a hard worker. If the Hawks can disrupt the Yotes zone entries and get turnovers or force poor dump ins they should be fine. However, if they allow the Yotes to set up and be able to get shots on goalie Corey Crawford they might be in trouble. Crawford's PP save percentage of .829 this season was one of the worst in the league. Obviously, save percentage numbers aren't all about the goaltender, but a number that low is pretty brutal. The best case scenario for the Hawks is to just limit the amount of penalties they take in the series.
Blackhawks Power Play vs. Coyotes Penalty Kill
This match-up is intriguing because it pits the blue collar Coyotes' PK unit against the white collar Blackhawks PP unit. The Hawks expect to have Jonathan Toews back for the series which should help their sputtering power play. However, earlier in the year when Toews was in the lineup their PP wasn't exactly lighting the lamp at a tremendous pace. Chicago ended the regular season converting 15.2% (26 in NHL) of their power plays. The Hawks do a better job of getting rubber on opposing goalies than the Coyotes do, but seem to spend a lot of time on the perimeter. If Chicago is allowed to get scoring chances below the circles Phoenix is likely in trouble. Unlike the Dogs, Chicago has plenty of top end skill that can finish like Toews, Patrick Kane, Marion Hossa, and Patrick Sharp. Hossa is the player Phoenix should fear most. He's a proven playoff performer and has had his best season so far in Chicago this year. If the Blackhawks
The Coyotes' penalty kill was the lone bright among the two team's units in the regular season. The unit killed penalties at a clip of 85.5% (8th in the NHL). In addition, they have killed 25 penalties straight going into the postseason. The team's overall numbers would probably have been even higher had PK stalwarts defensemen Rostislav Klesla and forward Boyd Gordon been healthy all season. Klesla has been the team's shutdown D-man on the PK and at even strength this season, while Gordon is one of the best face off men and shot blockers in the league. The other key member of the PK is forward Lauri Korpikoski. His active stick and speed give opposing players little time to make choices when they have the puck on their stick and if he steals the puck good luck catching him. The PK has been better on the road than at home, but given how its looked down the stretch at home don't expect to see much variance in the series.