In a turn of events that I am sure everyone saw coming, the Phoenix Coyotes now have a 2-0 series lead over the Nashville Predators after defeating them 5-3 last night. To win Game 1, the 'Yotes had to rely on goaltender Mike Smith to do most of the work, but that was not the case last night. Phoenix turned in one of their most impressive performances of the post-season and hammered the Preds at even strength; outchancing them 18-11 and outshooting them by 11.
Going into this series, I was very excited and curious because things could truly go either way. Neither Phoenix or Nashville are dominant possession teams and they both have gotten elite goaltending so it was hard to predict who would control most of this series. That sentiment has reigned true so far as the Preds controlled most of game one while Phoenix dominated most of game 2 during five-on-five play. The reason for the Preds trailing 2-0 ultimately comes down to goaltending.
No, Pekka Rinne has not been atrocious and the Preds defense was pretty brutal last night, but he was out-dueled by Mike Smith in game 1 and gave up five goals in game 2. With the Preds being a team that succeeded laragely on goaltending and special teams for most of the season, Rinne needs to play better than he did last night. Although, that statement can also apply to a lot of the Predators players.
Scoring Chances by Period
The Predators were not terribly outplayed overall, but the Coyotes had a big advantage at even strength, especially in the last 40 minutes. This game probably would not have been close if the Predators weren't so efficient on the powerplay, but that helped them close the gap on Phoenix a little bit. Unfortunately for them, the Coyotes were still throttling them at even strength and were able to quickly answer all of Nashville's goals within minutes.
Phoenix has a nice advantage on this series and can go far if they play like they did tonight but one thing that might come back to haunt them is their powerplay. They have eight minutes of powerplay time in this series and have created a grand total of one scoring chance. Granted, that scoring chance was a goal and the Coyotes play at even strength nullified that tonight but a powerplay that is struggling so much at just generating chances is going to be a problem sooner or later.
Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Alexander Radulov, David Legwand & Paul Gaustad +1
Worst EV Forward: Mike Fisher -5
Best EV Defenseman: Francis Bouillon +1
Worst EV Defenseman: Kevin Klein -7
The NBC Intermission panel of Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick heavily criticized Alexander Radulov for his "lazy" and "careless" play in this series, they even went onto say that Radulov was the Preds' "worst player." While Radulov has not scored yet in this series, calling him Nashville's worst player is asinine. I am probably beating a dead horse here, but puck-possession has not been the Preds' specialty and Radulov is one of the very few players on the team who can both drive possession & create scoring chances. He, along with David Legwand, did that last night. It's too bad that Radulov will be remembered for being a "lazy Russian" and Legwand's biggest moment was inexplicably throwing the puck to Radim Vrbata, who was standing in front of an open net.
If I had to pick a "worst" player for Nashville, I would look at the younger Kostitsyn brother as he has continued his brutal play from the Detroit series into the last two games and somehow, he is still playing on a line with Mike Fisher and Martin Erat. The former did not have a spectacular game at even strength either. Oh, there's also Kevin Klein but I feel like I have picked on him enough since the playoffs began.
The Preds defense corps, as a whole, had a pretty rough night but the Josi/Klein pairing was picked on more than a few times. I am interested to see how Klein performs in the two home games because he seemed to play better at Bridgestone Arena which is probably related to how Barry Trotz plays his matchups. I don't think it will help if he plays anything like he did last night, though.
Best EV Forward: Shane Doan +6
Worst EV Forward: Hanzal, Whitney, Gordon, Vrbata & Pouliot -1
Best EV Defenseman: Keith Yandle & Derek Morris +7
Worst EV Defenseman: David Schlemko -1
Whitney, Hanzal & Vrbata lit up the score-sheet but Doan-Vermette-Boedker were the ones carrying most of the load for Phoenix in game two. Their performance at both ends of the rink is very impressive when you factor in that Doan and Vermette were among the team leaders in defensive zone starts, Doan leading the way with eight. That line was just a wrecking force out there and Doan had a spectacular game.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson also played really well after having a rough opening to the series. He was playing tough minutes for the Coyotes once again and won that battle a lot more cleanly this time. Yandle & Morris appeared to be Phoenix's best defensemen at even strength, though. These two dominated whatever Nashville threw at them, which was mostly their third line but you can't fault them for doing their jobs well. Yandle had a terrific game offensively.
Another line that is doing their job well is the fourth line of Brule, Chipchura & Langkow. They play the easiest minutes on the team but they are doing everything they are supposed to right now, which is more than I can say for some other fourth liners out there. This line has been producing a high volume of chances relative to their ice time so I wouldn't be surprised if one of them got on the score-sheet soon.
David Schlemko wasn't very impressive in place of Michal Rozsival, who was a healthy scratch. Some of Nashville's lower lines were able to take advantage of him and he had a few unfortunate mistakes that ended up turning into chances for the Preds. Playing with Rostislav Klesla might help him a little bit if he is going to stay in the lineup, though.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
- Hanzal's line battled Legwand's to a draw, which is probably what Dave Tippet cares about the most. Nice game for those three, scoring chances aside.
- Mike Fisher's line has been one of Nashville's main two-way/defensive lines lately but they were crushed by Vermette, Boedker and Doan last night. They definitely need to be a lot better than they have so far.
- Weber & Suter won their matchup against Hanzal's line by a wide margin but were outchanced heavily by the Coyotes' second line.
- Four Coyotes won all of their matchups.