Other than Darcy Kuemper, who do you expect to have the biggest impact in this series?
James: So many Coyotes have the chance to be big, impact players against Colorado, but I feel that it will be someone like Niklas Hjalmarsson. He looked a bit rusty at times against the Predators and nearly helped them push it to Game 5 with a poor play. He has been one of the best shut-down defencemen in the NHL for several years and the Yotes will need him at his best if they hope to keep the likes of Mackinnon and Landeskog at bay.
Brandon: Now seems like a prime time for Phil Kessel to make us forget about a pretty disappointing season. Colorado isn’t exactly known for their defense, so Kessel will have no excuses to not to fill the scoresheet. Another candidate will be Carl Soderberg, who will be squaring off against his former team. He’s built for the Playoffs and is capable of being that random third-liner who wreaks havoc in a series. I also think that Hayton would do well against a team like the Avalanche, so hopefully, he will get his chances instead of he-who-shall-not-be-named.
Carl: Carl Soderberg has been getting a lot of attention. He is playing his former team, and the coaching staff seems like they are going to be leaning pretty heavily on his knowledge. I think Clayton Keller is probably going to be the leader on the score sheet, especially after the solid play-in round he had.
The Coyotes managed to get offense without Nick Schmaltz against the Predators. Do you think that can continue against the Avalanche?
James: I certainly hope so. The line of Hall, Dvorak, and Kessel appeared to gel quite nicely in the qualifying round and that should continue with the stakes now even higher against a better opponent. The team played well across the series and forced the Preds to play at their tempo and if they can force the Avalanche into the same, then there’s a lot of hope for this team in the offensive zone.
Brandon: If the Coyotes can score 4 goals a game against a much better defense in Nashville, I can’t see Colorado being any more difficult in that regard. My biggest concern is that no particular Coyote shone throughout the Nashville series (although Hall, Dvorak, and Garland deserve some praise here), and a score-by-committee approach is difficult to rely on when so many players appear to show up flat-footed. But I could be making this comment regardless of Schmaltz’s health. Offensively, the Coyotes are their own worst enemies.
Carl: It is difficult to say. Colorado is a different team than Nashville, in terms of both the skill of their players and their style of play. I think that Colorado’s goaltending is weaker than Nashville’s though, so if they can exploit that then they should be able to generate some offense. I think that is going to translate to fewer goals for the Coyotes and some tighter games.
Arizona allowed Nashville to take a lot of shots to start the third and fourth games of the series. Will the Coyotes continue deploying the “Rope-A-Yote” style?
James: Probably. They seemed to work well when on the back foot in terms of shots on net and it’s more about quality than quantity for this team. They can’t afford to let the Avalanche get too much of an advantage though and will really need to hone in on their defensive talents to keep them in that range where they may look like they’re out but are still right there in it.
Brandon: With all due respect to Duchene, Johansen, Forsberg, and Arvidsson, Colorado has far bigger offensive weapons who will capitalize more often if the Coyotes come out of the gate like they did in games three and four. The Rope-A-Yote approach is certainly not by design, but a product of poor preparedness and coaching. If we can dictate the play, even half of the time, we stand a good chance in this series. That shouldn’t be too much to ask, given that teams like Carolina and Columbus both frequently do this for the majority of their games.
Carl: I certainly hope not. If the Coyotes allow the Avalanche to set up like they did the Predators, they will be playing with fire. In our recent podcast, Craig Morgan posited that the team may have been nervous to start, which makes sense when you think about how many players were playing in the first postseason series. Hopefully, after winning a series they are less nervous this round.
What do you think is Arizona’s biggest weakness going into this series? Biggest strength?
James: The power-play. The Yotes at one point were 1-for-10 on the power-play and that’s just not acceptable. They need to get guys like Hall and Kessel firing and they need to start getting creative, maybe even throwing out four forwards and OEL on the first unit to really try and get themselves more chances when they hold the man advantage.
Brandon: It won’t be a surprise to anyone who has followed my rants before, but I think coaching is our biggest weakness heading into this series. In particular, our staff seems to have trouble adjusting to other team’s styles of play and continue to roll with the same tactics regardless of the outcome (see powerplay, zone entries, etc.). Having a best-of-7 series does provide Tocchet and co. some help here, as they may be able to make adjustments between games to help stop the bleeding after a full 60 minutes of a particular approach crashing and burning. Our biggest strength is obvious. In Darcy we trust.
Carl: The Coyotes are a team that struggles with consistency. It affects everything from their offense, their power play, to their ability to exit their own zone. The Avalanche are going to look for any opportunity to convert, and if the Coyotes have a sustained period of poor play there is a good chance it is going to turn out very badly for them.
Final prediction for the series?
James: I’d like to be optimistic for the Yotes, who match up somewhat more favorably against Colorado than other teams and were 1-0-1 in the regular-season against them. If Tocchet can get his guys playing at their tempo, controlling the game and playing solid defense, this one could go all the way to Game 7 and the Yotes could cause an upset. I feel Colorado if they come out firing on all cylinders, will take the series in 5 but my optimistic prediction is Yotes in 7!
Brandon: I’m with James here in that I’m trying to be optimistic. It would be dismissive to call the Avalanche a one-line team, but the Coyotes certainly have the edge in the depth department. If the team shows up, Grabner looks like he did against Nashville, and we limit MacKinnon to 1 point a night, I think we can take it in 7. If we come out like we did of late against Nashville, I could see the Avs sweeping us while we lament losing our shot in the Lafreniere sweepstakes.
Carl: I don’t think this will be an easy win for the Coyotes. If they are going to win I think it is going to take all 7 games. It will be tough, but I think the Coyotes will be able to hang with Colorado and push the series to Game 7. And at that point, anything can happen. So I am going to take Coyotes in 7.