The Phoenix Coyotes season has finally come to a close and now the team sits back and waits for the draft come. Wait a tick, the Phoenix Coyotes are actually being granted into the very selective post season gathering? Well that’s a howl of a different color!! (You see what I did there with ‘howl’ replacing ‘horse’?)
I could start here with all the hoopla of the Yotes off-season debacle and over coming that to qualify for the playoffs, but chances are you have heard enough about it and are well aware that this team is without a doubt the Cinderella team of the regular season.
Now the question becomes ‘Can this overachieving squad continue its run into the playoffs?’
The Coyotes first round opponent is the team that nobody wanted to draw first, the Detroit Red Wings.
The Wings lost a lot of goals from their squad that took them to the Stanley Cup Finals last season, not to mention it was almost the identical team that won the Cup two years ago, and limped its way through the season after a number of players went down with injury.
But the team finally got healthy and went on a 10-1-1 run to end the season, a record that struck fear into those in the top four seeds awaiting to see who their opponent would be.
Low and behold, the Phoenix Coyotes were the team that got stuck with the bully in class that is gonna make you do all the work. That’s right, the Wings are going to make the Coyotes work and as usual with Detroit, it will most likely look as though it isn’t trying on most nights.
Twice this season the Coyotes did end up victorious against the Wings, both of which were in overtime, not the shootout, and ended the season almost as hot as Detroit as the team won nine straight games in March.
This whole year has been full of proving doubters wrong for Phoenix and they are probably considered the underdog again by many of the mainstream analysts, but the good news for Phoenix fans is this team strives on being the underdog, and that should frighten Detroit.
Obviously, Detroit has playoff experience that overpowers the Coyotes and will use it to help them attempt to advance, but will experience be enough to fight off “the little engine that could” team know as the Phoenix Coyotes?
Well lets break down each important category and determine the who will come out victorious.
This Red Wings team, as mentioned earlier, was hampered with injuries all season so it 229 goals scored is very deceiving, but the forward clan in Motown is finally healthy and starting to play well together.
The Wings are led by “The Magic Man” Pavel Datsyuk and “El Diablo” Henrik Zetterberg (Talledega Nights reference for those unaware),” who combined for 140 points this year, 70 each, which is 20 more then the Coyotes top two scorers, Shane Doan and Wojtek Wolski, who have 55 and 65 respectively.
A player the Wings didn’t have for 55 games this season was Johan Franzen, who put up 34 goals last season and has scored 25 goals in the past two playoffs, showing that he has no problem finding ways to score.
The Coyotes addressed their scoring needs at the deadline by acquiring Wolski and Lee Stempniak who have definitely been helpful in the goals department, they just aren’t enough to top Detroit’s now healthy forward core.
If the Coyotes do want to try and keep up with the Detroit offense, Captain Coyote Shane Doan needs to come back to Earth and find his scoring touch as he only managed a goal and seven assists in the final 19 games.
If Doan can start scoring and/or helping this team produce then the Coyotes can breathe a heavy sigh of relief. But in the meantime, they need to brace themselves for a very powerful and very potent Detroit offense. Advantage: Detroit
The defense in Detroit is the same group that brought the team to the Stanley Cup Finals two years in a row, and the Coyotes have produced the most goals by defensemen in the league.
The Coyotes play a strong defensive system with a group of defenders that know how to use and sacrifice the body in order to take the puck away from the other team.
The Red Wings defense has more playoff experience in one player then the Coyotes do in their entire defensive roster, and that player is Nicklas Lidstrom, who has played in 235 games with 165 points.
The Coyotes have Adrian Aucoin, who will beat anyone in the shootout. Dammit, there aren’t shootouts in the playoffs. Uh, well, the Coyotes defense allowed the third least amount of goals this season.
The Red Wings have a second player who’s playoff experience may equal that of all the Coyotes defensemen combined as well, and that player is Brian Rafalski, who has 145 playoff games. There are four other defensemen on the team too that have some experience, care to continue who has the stronger D? Advantage: Detroit
Both teams have been successful this season because of the way the men in net have played for them, with both Ilya Bryzgalov and Jimmy Howard putting up very similar numbers across the board.
The one difference between the two is that one is a veteran with playoff experience and the other is a rookie. But that rookie also has a wild card known as Chris Osgood there to back him up in case he falters, which may not frighten many, but remember how many times Ozzy has been to the Cup Finals and how many he has helped the Wings win.
Face it Osgood is clutch come playoff time. But the Wings may not even need to turn to him if Howard can keep playing as well as he did during the regular season.
Bryzgalov on the other hand has had playoff experience, and winning playoff experience at that, as he was the starter for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks during the 2005-06 run that saw the team go to the Western Conference Finals.
Being not only talked about for Vezina consideration, there is even mention that Bryz may even deserve the Hart Memorial trophy for MVP, which is no surprise to anyone who watched this man almost carry the entire Coyotes team on his back, with the help of a Dave Tippett system.
If Bryz can remember how to play in the playoffs and continue stopping pucks the same way he did all season, then the Coyotes will have that advantage on the Wings, which is the first category they have more playoff experience in. Count it. Advantage: Phoenix
Well lets make this fast: Power play, Detroit is 6th in the league with 19%, Phoenix is 28th with 14%. Penalty Kill, Phoenix 84%, Detroit 83%. That 5% difference in PP% really makes this just about an easy mark for Detroit. Advantage: Detroit
The X-factor in this series is fatigue, something one team will feel, or may feel soon, and something another team has shown no signs of all season.
The team that needs to worry about fatigue is the Red Wings with three years in a row going to the Conference Finals or beyond, and having 7 of their top players competing in the Olympics this season.
While the Coyotes only had three players compete and one of them only appeared in two games, who was fortunately goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.
If the Coyotes were smart they would implement a strategy to just makes the Wings skate. Sure try to chip in some offense every now and then, but if they spent the majority of the game moving the puck around and forcing Detroit to chase the puck, it could increase the possibility of tiring them out more.
Fatigue is an important factor in a playoff series and no team has played more hockey in the past three seasons then the core group of players on the Detroit Red Wings roster, and the Coyotes need to expose that.
Phoenix is a young team that can skate fast and move the puck well amongst each other, which can be a deadly combination to a group of older vets such as the ones playing for the Winged Wheel. Advantage: Phoenix
Overall, the Coyotes may have the home ice advantage and may have put up more points this season then Detroit, but the fact is, they really are the underdogs when going up against the two-time Western Conference Champions and are going to be relying heavily on their goaltender, which can be good, but can easily turn bad for this inexperienced Phoenician squad.
As a Coyotes fan and a Red Wings fan, this series is the last match up I wanted for either team and am going to be going crazy watching these games. But as much as I want my Coyote side to finally get a whiff of the sweet, sweet smell of success, I feel this will be the last dance for this Cinderella squad.
I have had a personal stipulation/superstition for years never to predict “my team” to win in a playoff series, in fear of being wrong and feel completely to blame for their loss, and will be continuing this superstition to this series. Although I do have a feeling the arena in Glendale wont be howling past this playoff series.
Lets Go Yotes !! 16 wins to go
About the Author
Written by Matt Shott
22 year old hockey fan born and raised in Phoenix, AZ. Weird, huh? Entire family minus myself and my brother were born in Toronto, ON so thats how I became a fan of this great sport. I have worked at Ice rinks since I was 14 and spend all day reading hockey stories. I eat, sleep, coach, play, and basically LIVE hockey. I became a Red Wing fan thanks to EA Sports NHL '95 and haven't looked back since (Why would I?). Parents were Season Ticket holders for the Phoenix Coyotes since day 1 and when they moved to Portland 3 years ago, I picked up where they left off and have found a soft spot for them. I moved to Toronto in January '10 to attend Centennial College's Sports Journalism program, so I am becoming a Maple Leafs fan in the process. Its hard to do after 16 years of being a Red Wings fan. So to recap: Wings fan at heart, Leafs fan on the outside, and always carry a soft spot for the Coyotes.