The Phoenix Coyotes have been quite a story this post-season. Most people predicted them losing in the first round to the Chicago Blackhawks but they managed to take them down in six games, mostly due to some overtime magic. All but one of Phoenix's wins this post-season have come in overtime and that includes tonight's 4-3 win over the Nashville Predators in game 1 of the Western Conference Semi-finals.
This series is going to be very interesting because puck possession is not either team's specialty and it's tough to predict how things will turn out. Tonight, the Preds had the advantage in territorial play outshooting Phoenix 34-23 at even strength and outchancing them 19-16. They also had a stronger powerplay tonight, which equates to a win in most cases, except this year's playoffs. Mike Smith was absolutely stellar in net for the Coyotes and he was the main reason why they won.
Anyone who watched the game will likely tell you that the Preds controlled the latter stages of the game and that was certainly the case. They had the Coyotes pinned in their own zone for the last 50+ minutes or so but couldn't get anything past Smith in overtime. You could say that they received a taste of their own medicine from last round because Detroit was the better team at even strength but goaltending was the reason why Nashville won in five games. It would be some weird karmic justice if the rest of the series turns out like this and I will be shocked if it does.
Scoring chance breakdown after the jump
The strangest thing about this game is that it looks very similar to how most of Nashville's games in the Detroit series went, only reversed. The Preds made a habit of getting off to strong starts last round but they were actually a bit rusty coming out of the gate last night and the Coyotes took full advantage of it. Nashville could have easily found themselves trailing 1-0 at the end of the first if they didn't catch a lucky break on Brandon Yip's goal.
Nashville's offense woke up in the second period as they outplayed the Coyotes for most of that frame and really stepped it up after Mikkel Boedker's goal put them down 3-2. This is probably just score effects kicking in because I did notice the Coyotes sit back a lot during that period but they weren't exactly playing perfect defense as Smith had to make more than a few great saves to keep the 'Yotes ahead. The Preds had a run of eight consecutive scoring chances during the 2nd and 3rd period and kept the Coyotes out of their zone for large portions of time.
Having a couple powerplay opportunities definitely helped them because they weren't blowing Phoenix away at even strength but they took full advantage of their powerplays and eventually scored on one late in the third period. The Preds also had control for most of the overtime period, but Phoenix did a solid job at preventing scoring chances during then. An issue that could arise is that the Coyotes were relying mostly on turnovers, mistakes and icing penalties for offense during the OT frame and I don't know if that's the best strategy to have in future games. Mike Smith can't win every game for them even though it might seem like that right now.
Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: David Legwand +7
Worst EV Forward: Patric Hornqvist & Nick Spaling -3
Best EV Defenseman: Ryan Suter +5
Worst EV Defenseman: Kevin Klein -5
Everyone in Nashville's top-six did a solid job at producing offense and the Bourque-Legwand-Radulov line had another stellar performance. Whenever those three were on the ice, the puck was usually in Phoenix's end and the Preds were getting plenty of chance during those sequences, too. No one in their top-six scored at even strengthtonight but they are going to have some big games if they keep playing like this.
Their top defense pairing of Ryan Suter & Shea Weber also performed pretty well, the game-winning goal not withstanding. I was very impressed with what I saw from Suter tonight as he was very effective in his own end and also made some good plays in the offense zone, too. Speaking of which, Francis Bouillon seemed to pinch a lot more than usual tonight and it resulted in a few great scoring opportunities for Nashville.
I am beginning to think that Hal Gill might be a better second pairing option than Kevin Klein after the latter's performance tonight. Yeesh. He was just a wreck whenever he got near the puck and he also took a very bad penalty which led to Radim Vrbata's goal. I know that it's never good to over-react to one bad game, but Klein has been bad all post-season and has been one of the Preds' worst players.
Best EV Forward: Kyle Chipchura +4
Worst EV Forward: Lauri Korpikoski -6
Best EV Defenseman: Keith Yandle & Adrian Aucoin +1
Worst EV Defenseman: Derek Morris & Oliver Ekman-Larsson -3
Most of Phoenix's players ended up being outchanced at even strength with the one exception being the fourth line of Gilbert Brule, Kyle Chipchura & Daymond Langkow. These three play soft minutes and usually aren't out there for more than 10 minutes a game, but they do a great job in this role. They do just about everything you can ask out of a fourth line. They keep the play in the opponent's zone, drive possession and score a little bit on top of that. This was the line that was on ice for Rostislav Klesla's goal and their hard forecheck is what helped lead to it.
Martin Hanzal won an important face-off at the end of the game but he was hit pretty hard by the Legwand line for most of the night. The rest of Phoenix's tough minutes forward didn't fare much better as the Korpikoski-Gordon-Pyatt lien was on ice for a ton of chances against.
Just about all of Phoenix's defensemen were on ice for a lot of chances against but Morris and Oliver Ekman-Larsson ended up having the worst differentials. Morris looks a lot worse here because OEL played most of his minutes against the Legwand line, while Morris was matched up against Nick Spaling's line. Whenever you are getting outchanced that badly by third liners, that is a bad sign.
Head-to-head at five-on-five
- Something completely strange here is that the Legwand line outchanced all of their competition except for Yandle & Derek Morris. Albeit they were rarely matched up against those two but it's still pretty strange to see.
- Very rough game for Boyd Gorodon's line as they lost all but one of their matchups.
- Yandle & Morris played a little over half of their even strength ice-time against the Spaling line and they won that matchup. Morris was a turnstile against just about everyone else, though.
- Ekman-Larsson had a tough time against Nashville's top-six but played well against everyone else.
- Weber & Suter did most of their damage against the Coyotes' third line.