Analysis and prediction for the upcoming series between the Kings and Coyotes.
The participants: Phoenix Coyotes (third overall seed), Los Angeles Kings (eight overall seed).
How they got here: The Coyotes downed the favored Nashville Predators in five games, while the Kings needed only four games to upset the second-seeded St. Louis Blues.
Keys to their advancement. Both possess superb goaltending (the Kings in Jonathan Quick, the Coyotes in Mike Smith) and an aggressive forecheck. Many of the Kings best players rose to the occasion against the Blues, while the Coyotes scoring was spread throughout their lineup.
Coaching: The Coyotes have been coached by Dave Tippett for several seasons, while Kings bench boss Darryl Sutter has only been with them a half-season, though he did coach the Calgary Flames to the 2004 Cup Final, giving him experience in winning at the Conference Final level. The players on both clubs have “bought in” to their coaches respective systems.
Goaltending: The stats for Quick (1.55 GAA, .949 SP, 1 SO) and Smith (1.77 GAA, .948 SP, 2 SO) are nearly identical. Both were outstanding in the regular season and the first two rounds of this year’s playoffs. If they continue their strong play, this could be a low-scoring series.
Defense: Though both are considered defensive-minded clubs, the Kings did a better job shutting down their opposition (Canucks and Blues) than the Coyotes (Blackhawks and Predators) so far. Look no further than the shots-against, as Smith has seen far more rubber after two rounds (400) than Quick (274). Yes, Smith played in two more games than Quick, but assuming the latter played two more games, at an average of 35 shots per game, he’d still be far behind Smith’s shot total. The Coyotes have been out-shot by almost a two-to-one margin in nearly every game this spring, relying on Smith to bail them out. Not a wise tactic to take against a reawakened Kings offense.
Offense: During the regular season the Coyotes were 18th overall in goals-per-game, while the Kings were 29th . It’s been a different story in the post-season, with the Kings tied with New Jersey Devils for third overall in scoring, while the Coyotes are fifth. The Kings’ surge was fuelled by their best offensive players – Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Justin Williams, Drew Doughty, Jeff Carter, even the oft-maligned Dustin Penner – rising to the occasion. As for the Coyotes, they lack notable “name” scoring talent, but are getting production throughout their lineup, particularly from Antoine Vermette, Rostislav Klesla, Mikkel Boedker, Keith Yandle, Shane Doan, Ray Whitney and Martin Hanzal.
Special teams: Given their solid goaltending and defense, it’s no surprise these two teams are among the post-season’s best on the penalty kill, with the Kings tied for first, while the Coyotes are fourth. On the power-play, however, it’s a different matter, as of the remaining playoff teams, these two rank the lowest with the man-advantage. The Coyotes are ninth overall in that category, while the Kings (despite their improved offensive production) have the second-worst PP percentage, at a woeful 8.5 percent.
Prediction: The Coyotes may be the third overall seed, but there’s little doubt they were underdogs in their series against Chicago and Nashville, and will probably be considered the same against the resurgent Kings, who made short work of the heavily favored Canucks and Blues.
This could be a long, hard-fought series featuring outstanding goaltending, but the Kings – thanks to Quick’s goaltending, their physical play, and the performance of their best scoring forwards – should have the edge over the Coyotes. Kings in Six.