This series has been in the books for almost a week and there has been plenty of time for the pundits and bloggers to create their narratives about the Coyotes sending the Preds home in only five games. Last time I checked, the ongoing story is that that the Preds ran into the "hungrier team" and had their chemistry ruined by two lazy, misbehaving players. Some other explanations I've heard are saying that the Preds took Phoenix too lightly and were "believing the hype of their own team" after they knocked off Detroit.
People are entitled to believe what they want but most of the underlying numbers say that the Preds played much better than the results might indicate. They outplayed Phoenix at even strength, had a stronger powerplay and controlled possession but goaltending ended up being the difference maker. Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith has carried over his incredible play from the regular season into the playoffs and was the main reason why the Coyotes were able to make such short work of the Predators.
All but one of Phoenix's wins were decided by a goal and Nashville actually outchanced Phoenix in all but one game this series, so this series could have gone in a much different direction if the Preds got a few bounces. Pekka Rinne was good, but Mike Smith was just better and that ended up being the big difference maker. With that being said, there were a few other things that went awry for Nashville and they are not all centered around Alexander Radulov.
A closer look at this series is coming after the jump.
Series Scoring Chances
The Predators had a pretty big advantage overall but they weren't exactly dominating Phoenix at even strength. Their advantage when playing five-on-five was only seven, but their powerplay was far superior to that of the Coyotes and that widened the gap by a lot. Possession is not a strong suit of either team, so I figured that the scoring chances could go either way and the Preds had the advantage there, but not by a lot. It's interesting to see how Phoenix played better at even strength in the second period compared to the other two frames. If I remember correctly, the Coytoes had quite a few goals in the second period so the numbers here aren't terribly surprising.
What is surprising is that the Coyotes were able to make this such a short series despite having a completely ineffective powerplay. They generated only four scoring chances when playing 5-on-4, which was the same amount of shorthanded chacnes they had. I think this shows how much of a role goaltending played in this series. Just think about it for a minute. The Coytoes were outplayed at even strength, had a lifeless powerplay and their penalty kill wasn't exactly great either. Their success comes down to goaltending or luck. Probably some of both. One could say that the Preds got a taste of their own medicine this series because Nashville was able to defeat Detroit in five games for the same reasons.
Predators Even Strength Scoring Chances by Player
|#||Player||EV TOI||5v5 SCF||5v5 SCA||SC Diff||EV SC%|
Best EV Forward: David Legwand +14
Worst EV Forward: Andrei Kostitsyn -7
Best EV Defensemen: Hal Gill & Ryan Suter +8
Worst EV Defenseman: Kevin Klein -12
There was a lot of criticism directed towards Alexander Radulov but he was actually one of Nashville's stronger forwards in the three games he played. I can't defend Andrei Kostitsyn, though. He did have a goal but he was underwater in scoring chances and his little brother wasn't much better when playing at even strength. They weren't the only ones in the Preds' top-six to underperformed as both Mike Fisher and Patrick Hornqvist were pretty bad defensively.
One forward who definitely showed up was David Legwand as the carried the load offensively despite having to deal with different linemates in each of the last three games. I always felt that he was very underrated but he performed very well on a national stage so hopefully more people were impressed with him. Colin Wilson also had a good series and was Nashville's best player in game 5. After being in Barry Trotz's dog house for most of the season, it was good to see him step up in the playoffs.
Every Nashville defenseman had a positive scoring chance differential aside from Kevin Klein, who was completely buried. This happened in the Detroit series but his struggles were masked by the fact that he was producing points. Unfortunately for Nashville, history repeated itself and the Coyotes' second and third lines took advantage of him whenever he was on the ice. Only this time Trotz noticed this and bumped him off the second defense pairing.
Coyotes Even Strength Scoring Chances
|#||Player||EV TOI||5v5 SCF||5v5 SCA||SC Diff||SC%|
Best EV Forward: Kyle Chipchura +10
Worst EV Forward: Lauri Korpikoski -11
Best EV Defenseman: Oliver Ekman-Larsson +3
Worst EV Defenseman: Derek Morris -7
Phoenix's second line of Doan-Vermette-Boedker proved to be their strongest as these three were the most effective at pushing play into the Preds' end and it also helped that they were scoring on top of that. They were dealt an easier matchup than their first line was and they were able to take full advantage of it. Doan may have been their best forward as he was a beast on the forecheck and was on ice for the most scoring chances among Coytoes forwards.
The fourth line of Brule-Langkow-Chipchura was something that I talked about a lot during this series and they were very good in their role. They play very soft minutes but they do exactly what they are supposed to do with them. Which is to not get killed possession-wise and produce a little offense on along with it. They were able to do that at home very effectively, but not so much on the road.
The players who were taking on the tougher minutes ended up taking a beating at even strength. Martin Hanzal is usually very good defensively and at driving the play, but he seemed to struggle a little bit in that area despite putting up four points in five games. The only member of their top line that didn't get beaten at even strength was Ray Whitney, which is pretty amazing when you consider his age. The Wizard always seems to get it done no matter what and he had a great series.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson and David Schlemko were the only Phoenix defensemen to have positive scoring chance differentials and the former was playing some of the toughest minutes on the team. He has earned every single bit of praise he's received this year as he is already outperforming his teammates while playing a much tougher role.
Predators Even Strength Scoring Chances per 15 minutes
|#||Player||EV CF/15||EV CA/15||Diff|
In what was a surprise to me, Ryan Suter outperformed Shea Weber offensively at even strength. Both were relatively good in their own end but Suter was on ice for much more chances than his defense partner was. Hopefully Suter's agent pays attention to this kind of stuff because his performance this post-season might given him an even bigger payday in a couple of months.
Fisher and Hornqvist were two of the Preds' better players at producing chances but they simply gave up too much in their own end. Compare that to Wilson, Erat and Legwand's performance and you'll notice a pretty big drop-off in overall production.
It might sound like I am piling on here but Klein got destroyed at even strength. How he was even playing top-four minutes is just baffling to me because I think replacing him with Hal Gill would have been a slight improvement and the numbers back up that statement. Hell, even Francis Bouillon and Roman Josi were more effective at preventing chances. The good thing for the Preds is that Klein has a pretty cheap contract for someone who plays big minutes, but his performance suggests that he shouldn't be used in these situations at all. He is brutal.
Coyotes Even Strength Scoring Chances per 15 Minutes
|#||Player||EV CF/15||EV CA/15||Diff|
Chipchura, Brule & Langkow all look like they were dominating their opponents and they were..but they were mainly facing other fourth liners and rarely played over 10 minutes. I am not discrediting them for it because that is their role but it is worth keeping in mind when evaluating their performance. Ray Whitney's performance was much more impressive because he was facing tougher competition and did not allow that many scoring chances compared to the rest of the team. It also appears that Boedker was a bit of a passenger on the second line as Doan & Vermette were stronger at carrying the play.
If I am a Coyotes fan, I would be concerned with Hanzal, Vrbata, Pyatt and Gordon's numbers. They play in very important situations and gave up a lot of chances while not creating many chances of their own. That could come back to haunt them sooner rather than later. Lauri Korpikoski also took a beating in the two games he played in.
Rostislav Klesla getting suspended may have been a blessing in disguise because he was terrible defensively while Schlemko actually handled himself pretty well in his place. Derek Morris has been the target of criticism of many on Twitter and whatnot, but it looks like Klesla was more of a weak link for Phoenix in this series. Not that Morris was great or anything, because he definitely had a lot of problems.
This chart also shows how much Ekman-Larsson outperformed the rest of the defense as he was outstanding at both creating and preventing chances. He managed to do it with Rozsival and Aucoin as his partners, too. Although, Aucoin wasn't bad at all.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
Phoenix did not win many of their matchups but Boedker-Vermette-Doan did a number against Mike Fisher's line and that helped prevent the Coyotes from being completely run over at even strength. Phoenix's fourth line was also able to tilt the ice in their team's favor as they won their matchup over the Preds' third line. On that note, Nick Spaling had a very bad series and he lost just about all of his matchups.
Time On Ice Matchup
This is just an illustration of how much Suter & Weber are relied on. They played nearly 40 minutes against the Hanzal line and a half hour against the Coytes second line. I'm a little surprised that Trotz didn't try to spread things out a little bit but when you are playing someone as bad as Kevin Klein in your top four, I guess it isn't too surprising that one pairing carry the load. Still, Gill and Bouillon did not play awful and could have possibly played a little more against the Coyotes' top six. If anything it would take some pressure off Weber & Suter.
Dave Tippett did something similar with Ekman-larsson as he played oer 30 minutes against Legwand & Fisher's lines while the rest of the defense were fed easier opponents. Yandle & Morris were protected as they spent most of their time matched up with Spaling and neither Aucoin, Schlemko or Klesla were matched up with anyone in particular.
The forwards were mostly used in a power vs. power role as both team's top-sixes spent a lot of their time facing each other and the bottom-sixes were protected. You'll see here that Phoenix's fourth line mostly preyed on Klein & Josi.