There were a lot of bloggers and pundits who predicted the Phoenix Coyotes taking a large step back this season because they lost an top-tier goaltender in Ilya Bryzgalov and replaced him with Mike Smith, a goalie who had a sub-.900 save percentage last season and was waived by the Tampa Bay Lightning. It is probably a safe bet to say that not many thought the Coyotes would make the Western Conference Finals and even fewer that predicted Mike Smith would be the reason why they would get that far. Fast forward to May and the Coyotes are one of the last two teams remaining in the Western Conference on the back of Mike Smith's .948 save percentage.
Going into this series, I gave the Predators the advantage because I thought they would be relying on goaltending less than the Coyotes and that was true for the most part. They outchanced Phoenix 19-11 in game 5 and 15-11 at even strength but Mike Smith, once again, played lights out and was a key role in Phoenix's 2-1 win over Nashville to eliminate them from the playoffs. Phoenix wasn't getting dominated at even strength, but the puck was in their end for most of the night and goaltending was the deciding factor in yet another game. You have to wonder how long this kind of strategy will keep up for the Coyotes but it's gotten them pretty deep in the playoffs now and they are only eight wins away from the Stanley Cup. It is pretty unbelievable when you look at their numbers over the series. We will look at those numbers later, but for now, we will look at how game 5 went.
Game 5 Scoring Chances
|Period||Totals||EV||PP||5v3 PP||SH||5v3 SH|
In what has become a reoccurring theme this series, Nashville had a good start but couldn't score and it came back to haunt them because that was the best they looked all game. After surviving the first period with the score tied at zero, Phoenix mainly focused on playing strong defense and didn't allow the Preds to do much for most of the second or third period. There were a few stretches in the third where the Preds didn't have any scoring chances because of how well Phoenix was shutting them down in the neutral zone. The Coyotes also covered the front of the net pretty well and forced a lot of Nashville's opportunities to the outside or from a bad angle, which were easy for Smith to stop.
The Coyotes didn't have much offense going but they were playing with a lead for a little over 40 minutes so that is probably why. The only time where I thought they were dominated was in the first period which they managed to come out from unscathed. The chance numbers at even strength for the final two periods aren't terribly lopsided at all. Smith certainly had to do his part in the first period and for most of this series, but the team in front of him played well once they had established a lead. I a little surprised that the Preds couldn't score on the PP, though because they were certainly getting their opportunities there.
Best EV Forward: Colin Wilson +5
Worst EV Forward: Nick Spaling -4
Best EV Defenseman: Hal Gill +5
Worst EV Defenseman: Francis Bouillon -5
I have defended Alexander Radulov's play in games 1 and 2 but I simply can not do that here. He was a non-factor when playing at even strength and looked lost in the offensive zone more than a few times. He was good on the powerplay, but his performance at even strength left much to be desired. I am sure some of it had to do with him and Andrei Kostitsyn being stuck with Nick Spaling centering their line but these two had a lot more problems in game 5 than playing with a weak center.
In another lineup change, Barry Trotz put replaced Sergei Kostitsyn with Colin Wilson on the first line and it really payed off for the Preds as that line was Nashville's best last night. Fisher had his best game of the series and Wilson scored Nashville's only goal with the game and created three scoring chances. Wilson has been in the doghouse for most of the season but he definitely impressed the coaching staff with his performance last night. At least I hope he did.
Personally, I thought Weber and Suter had an off game by their standards but they appeared to play fine in terms of scoring chances but I was really impressed with how Hal Gill & Roman Josi played last night. Josi hasn't been great this season but he had one of his better performances last night and Gil did a fine job at preventing chances in his own end, as well.
Kevin Klein has been the target of much criticsim from me during these playoffs but he wasn't Nashville's weakest link on the blue line, that would be Francis Bouillon. He was a turnstile last night and the only Nashville defenseman to finish with a negative rating.
Best EV Forward: Kyle Chipchura +3
Worst EV Forward: Lauri Korpikoski -5
Best EV Defenseman: David Schlemko +3
Worst EV Defenseman: Keith Yandle -3
Most of Phoenix's players finished underwater in scoring chances with the notable exceptions being their fourth line and David Schlemko. Oliver Ekman-Larsson also had a very impressive performance as he played well on the PK again and was one of Phoenix's best defensemen at even strength. This is with a lot of minutes coming against the Preds' top-six, too. I am very excited and curious to see how he does against the top two lines of the Kings because that should be a great test for him.
Schlemko was also very impressive in place of the suspended Rostislav Klesla and I would not be surprised if he plays again sometime this post-season because he looks very sound out there. On the flipside, most of Phoenix's other defensemen had rough games. Yes, Derek Morris scored a goal but he leaked shots and chances against otherwise and Keith Yandle did not have a good game either.
The only players from Phoenix who had a disappointing performance was their second line of Vermette, Doan and Boedker as they gave up a lot of chances against and only produced two themselves. They've been good in the playoffs but this wasn't one of their better games.
- Hanzal's line had trouble against Phoenix's top-six but they took care of the Radulov line without much of a problem. A lot of the Coyotes players preyed on that line, actually.
- Ekman-Larsson and Rozsival fared much better against the top players from Nashville than Yandle/Morris did.
- Gill/Josi beat out the Hanzal line but struggled against Vermette's.
|WES||2||16:00||Morris - GOAL||11||27||35||57||59||75||3||11||13||17||41||53||5v5|
|WES||2||4:51||Hanzal - GOAL||12||27||35||51||57||59||6||8||11||23||24||41||5v5|
|NSH||3||5:59||Wilson - GOAL||6||11||27||33||35||59||3||14||15||28||41||53||5v5|