Greetings Phoenix Coyotes fans. It's the middle of May and we're still talking about Coyotes playoff hockey. This week we decided to put the leaf in the table so we could fit more guests. The staff and our guests weigh in on who the potential X-factors will be and make predictions on which team will win the series.
Returning to the table this week are Fox Sports Arizona's Coyotes Play by play announcer Matt McConnell and producer Graham Taylor.
Joining us from the other end of I-10 are Niesy from SB's Nation's Jewels From The Crown, Rudy Kelly from SB Nation's Battle of California, and last, but certainly not least, we have a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, Helene Elliott from the Los Angeles Times.
Aside from Mike Smith, who do you see as being the biggest X-factor in this series for the Phoenix Coyotes?
Helene Elliott: I'd say Ray Whitney. A few of the Kings on Wednesday said he was probably the Coyotes' most dangerous player against them in the teams' season series. Kings have to watch him but not give his linemates too much space.
Rudy Kelly: Lauri Korpikoski. Didn't see that one coming, did you? But seriously, I don't know who that is. The Coyotes' biggest x-factor is going to be shutting down Kopitar & Richards and there's not one guy who is going to do that; it's going to be by committee.
Niesy: The Kings mention him in the same breath with Yandle, but I think he'll be even more dangerous in all situations: Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Matt McConnell: Smith has been the key, but the Coyotes have generated their success through just about everyone in the lineup. There hasn't been a single player that hasn't contributed. Besides Smith, it seems to be a different player every game. Mikkel Boedker had the OT winners in the Chicago series, the fourth line of Chipchura-Langkow-Brule has set the tone throughout, the blueline has been rock solid and contributed offensively. In addition, Shane Doan has anchored the leadership department while players like Boyd Gordon, Taylor Pyatt and Antoine Vermette have all contributed within their roles. So you see where I'm going with this as I seem to name nearly the entire lineup. That's how they win, when everyone contributes.
Graham Taylor: Martin Hanzal. We've seen the good and the bad and the battler with Marty. I shook my head at the timing of his 2ndpenalty (hooking) last game but then saw him score a goal and come back and level a Preds player in open-ice breaking out of his zone. The match-ups down the middle will be something to watch this series and the Coyotes grit at that position will have to win over the Kings' skill.
The Five For Howling Staff
Jordan: I'm sticking with the guys I've identified previously - Radim Vrbata, Ray Whitney and Martin Hanzal. With nods to a lot of the other players on the defense, getting these guys going would go a long way to a series victory. That being said, even if they can play the Kings' top unit even and be just as effective in keeping them off the board as they are at lighting the lamp, that would be a big win for the Coyotes. Vrbata and Hanzal haven't looked quite at 100% (or as close as players get in the postseason) since their respective injuries in the Chicago series, so hopefully they will benefit from the long rest they are getting here.
The Dude: I am not really sure there is one x-factor with the Coyotes, I think that during this series one player is going to step up big like Mikkel Boedker did during the first series. If I had to guess I think I would go with Radim Vrbata just because he has been pretty quiet during the playoffs and I think he is due to start getting some goals.
Ben: Gilbert Brule, he has really impressed me this post season, he had 2 goals in the Chicago series and played well in the Nashville series with nothing to show for it. In My opinion he is due to have a breakout in this series against the Kings anemic 4th line.
Carl: It's almost impossible to pick one guy at this point. The playoffs have been much like the past three years with this team. You never know who from the Pack is going to step up. With that being said, I think Ben's choice of Gilbert Brule is an excellent one. Brule and his linemates have gotten quality scoring chances throughout the playoffs and I believe the Kings fourth line and bottom pairing can be exploited.
Travis: Mikkel Boedker. He's quietly gotten 7 points (3-4-7) so far in the playoffs and the Coyotes scoring is going to come from not the first line as the Kings will look to shut down the Prime line. Boedker, along with Oliver Ekman Larsson have really shown what young guys who work hard to earn playing time develop into. Dave Tippett gets a rap of not liking to play the younger guys but when they play like those two have it's hard not to.
Aside from Jonathon Quick, who do you see as being the biggest X-factor in this series for the Los Angeles Kings?
Helen: I'd say Jeff Carter. He was very quiet against St. Louis but if he can get going he would be a valuable asset. Has size, hands, playoff experience. Kings' power play could use contribution from him.
Rudy: Slava Voynov & Alec Martinez. The Kings' other 2 young, puck-moving defensemen haven't really made the impact many assumed they would before the playoffs began. Voynov & Martinez each only have 1 point a piece in the playoffs after scoring 22 & 12, respectively in a little over half the regular season. They have been playing solid defense, at least, but they're going to be relied on more in this round because of the speed of the Coyotes. They need to step it up, especially on the power play, for the Kings to advance to the next round.
Niesy: Can I cheat and say the entire bottom 6? No? Doughty and Kopitar and Richards are pretty obvious...
I'll go for the unsung hero aspect. Willie Mitchell has logged some heavy minutes in the postseason. If a power play needs killing, he's their man. He also has an underrated shot. I might be in love with him.
Matt: The Kings are very similar to the Coyotes in that everyone in their lineup seems to make a difference. Early on, I think it was the play of their captain Dustin Brown who keyed their run against Vancouver and later against St. Louis in the second round. In mid-season, when the team was struggling to score and move up in the standings, general manager Dean Lombardi made a couple of roster moves. He recalled youngsters Dwight King and Jordan Nolan from Manchester and paired them with veteran Mike Richards. That move instantly changed the chemistry of the team and made the Kings a much bigger squad. Then Lombardi acquired Jeff Carter from Columbus at the trade deadline and the team started scoring goals, averaging close to three per game. I'm sure they will look to get traffic in front of Smith. So players such as Brown, Carter and Richards will be huge threats throughout the series.
Graham: Mike Richards. He's been a leader, played physical and with emotion, and his chipping in on the score sheet - everything you should do in the playoffs. To have him as your second line center (Jarret Stoll pretty good 3rd line center) makes the match-ups that much harder on the Coyotes, and if either of his wingers get going, he could be putting up some big numbers. He makes the Kings power play so much better and winning that match-up can put a team into the finals.
The Five For Howling Staff
Jordan: Mike Richards. This is probably a bit of my Richards love filtering through, but I really think that he can be the most dynamic player on the ice when he wants to. He's got a lot to prove after the Flyers traded him in the off-season and that's always dangerous. In addition to his simple will to win, he plays every situation on the ice and without the "distractions" of being a team captain, he can just go back to doing what he does best - leading by example on the ice. The Coyotes were very successful at neutralizing (as much as possible) Chicago's and Nashville's top lines throughout those series. I anticipate that the 'Yotes will be focusing a lot of attention on shutting down the Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams unit, which may leave Richards some more opportunity to shine. Hopefully with the added rest all of our defense will be healthy and Richie will leave the series frustrated along with the rest of the Kings.
The Dude: Dustin Brown. The general buzz around the Kings is that Brown has really upped his game and is playing so well and if you look at his numbers that really shows. He is number four in points with his 6 goals and 5 assists and he is a plus 9 which is just insane.
Ben: What can I say, Mr. Pancakes himself, Dustin Penner. Yes, he has 7 points but only 2 of them are goals, and with Anze Kopitar being locked up by Martin Hanzal, Dustin will have to try to generate some more offense from the Kings 2nd line.
Carl: I'm going to go with one the Kings d-men. I had trouble choosing just one, so I'm going with both the wily vet Willie Mitchell and the youngster coming into his own, Alec Martinez.
Travis: Dustin "Pancakes" Penner. I don't know why. I just like to mention the pancake thing a lot. In reality though, I'll take Drew Doughty. He's playing a ton of minutes and the Coyotes are going to have to limit his passing as well as try and beat him defensively which is difficult.
Who wins the series and in how many games?
Helene : My record on predictions isn't very good this spring...I'll say this should go seven. I'm leaning toward the Kings--I picked them to lose in round 1 and win round 2--but this could go either way.
Rudy: The Coyotes get to play the "Underdog" card in this series; unfortunately, the Kings get to play the "Better At Every Position" card. Kings win in 4-7 games.
Niesy: Kings in 6.
Matt: Los Angeles has some high end skill and plenty of grit to make life miserable for the Coyotes. If you look back to the regular season, the team split six games. They also had that memorable, fight-filled affair in Los Angeles when Coyotes captain Shane Doan fought Dustin Brown after the Kings forward's hit on Rusty Klesla. But I think the Coyotes have as much balance, if not more, than any of the remaining teams in the playoffs. And to me, with Quick and Smith being equal, balance and depth might be the difference in the series. As we know, the Coyotes tend to do everything "the hard way", so I look for this series to go the distance. Make it Coyotes in 7.
Graham: This is going to be a great series. Coyotes in 7.
The Five For Howling Staff
Jordan: Again, no reason to deviate from what I've been saying all along (even if I've been wrong in both series so far). It's going to be a hard fought series, between two physical teams that are stingy on the back end and don't always score a ton of goals (despite what the last 9 games show for LA). I'll say that home ice advantage actually helps the Coyotes despite LA's sterling 5-0 record on the road in the playoffs and the Coyotes win in 7.
Ben: The Coyotes in 6, Mike Smith and Jonathon Quick will both get one shutout apiece.
The Dude: I think this series will go 6 games and the winner will be the team who wins the Stanley Cup.
Carl: I expect a long, physical series. I picked against the Coyotes in the last series. I'm not making the same mistake twice. Coyotes in 7.
Travis: Same prediction as the last two series since it worked so well. Coyotes in 5.