The No. 3 seed Phoenix Coyotes and the No. 8 seed Los Angeles Kings will clash in the Western Conference Final beginning Sunday night in Phoenix. It will be the largest clash of coyotes and kings since Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad. Here are 10 items for your consideration about this matchup.
10. The Kings are killing Division champions
The Phoenix Coyotes enter this series the reigning Pacific Division champions, and if the Kings' recent history is any indication, this could prove problematic. LA made short work of the Northwest Division champion Vancouver Canucks, knocking them off in 5 games. They followed that act by sweeping the Central Division champion St. Louis Blues. They eat Division champions for breakfast right now.
9. The Kings are money shorthanded
LA has a +1 goal differential when shorthanded, having allowed three power play goals and scored four shorthanded goals in the postseason thus far. There's simply no margin for error against their forecheck on the penalty kill. They cause neutral zone turnovers, disrupt zone entries, and make it Hell for the oppponent to set up. That frustration tends to lead to sloppiness, and that sloppiness tends to lead to shorthanded opportunities. It's an endless cycle.
Both the Blues and the Canucks fell victim to the Kings' fabulous penalty-killing. Will the Coyotes do the same?
8. The Coyotes are as disciplined and structured as they come
On the flipside, the Coyotes don't seem to rattle. If there's one area where they have the edge, it's composure. This team plays the same way shift in and shift out, and if they can stick to that, they'll avoid making the same powerplay errors as previous LA opponents. Furthermore, it's entirely possible they might be able to turn the tables.
At times, the Coyotes were able to catch the Blackhawks and Predators cheating, and if their robotic approach to the game can lead Los Angeles to act a little impatient or to push a little too hard, they might be able to give the opportunistic Kings a taste of their own medicine.
7. Captain on Captain
Shane Doan and Dustin Brown are the same kind of captain: tenacious, hard-working, and capable of throwing a massive hit every now and then. Expect these two to go at one another hard.
Brown has been the standout player of these playoffs, and he that continues, this series won't go long. The Coyotes need Doan to win this battle, like he won the fight between the two captains on February 16:
6. Equipment manager rivalry
There isn't a whole lot of cross-pollination between these two teams, but here's an interesting thread: Denver Wilson, one of the Kings's assistant equipment managers, is the son of Coyotes' Head Equipment Manager Stan Wilson. Equipment managing is the family business, I guess.
But now the family is at odds! Who can manage equipment better? Father? Son? We will soon find out.
5. Mike Smith vs. Jonathan Quick
This is the marquee matchup here, as the two hottest goaltenders in the postseason go head to head. Of the remaining backstops, Smith and Quick are the standouts, with .949 and .948 save percentages, respectively, and 1.55 and 1.77 goals against averages. There really isn't much separating the two, and their play will decide this series.
4. Smith will be busier than Quick
One thing that does separate the two: volume of shots. Quick has faced 274 this postseason; Smith has faced 400 in just 2 more games. The Coyotes average 36.4 shots against per game.
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What does this tell us? That the pressure's on Smith here. Quick's skaters limits the shots he faces and spend a lot of time in the other end, but Smith's skaters aren't as generous. He'll have to be much better than Quick for the Coyotes to win this series, because he's going to see a lot more pucks.
3. Smith and Quick's super-weird ECHL connection
Smith and Quick both worked their way up from the East Coast Hockey League, and they both got their first win the same way: via shutout. That's kind of special in and of itself, but here's the weird part: they also both scored a goal in those games:
Smith became the sixth goaltender in ECHL history to score a goal when he flipped the puck out of the Lexington zone against Dayton, landing it in the centre ice dot and sliding it the rest of the way into the net.
In Quick's case, playing against Pensacola, somebody on the other team rolled the puck back into their own net and since Quick was the last player to touch the puck, so he was credited with the unassisted goal.
Any offense Smith and Quick feel inclined to provide in this series will likely be welcomed.
2. Boyd Gordon and Antoine Vermette are faceoff wizards
Phoenix spends a lot of time in their own zone, which means they take a lot of defensive zone faceoffs. Thank goodness, then, that they have two of the best pivots in the league to take these crucial draws: Gordon and Vermette have been dynamite in the circle for the Coyotes, winning nearly 60% of their faceoffs in the postseason. (Gordon's at 58.7 per cent, and Vermette's at 58.4 per cent.)
The Coyotes are far and away the best faceoff team remaining in the postseason, and they have to keep it that way to have a chance in this series. The Kings are the better puck possession team by far, but if the Coyotes have the first touch after the puck is dropped, they'll be able to generate some chances the other way.
If their faceoff prowess dries up, however, they'll struggle to get the puck out of their end all series.
Kings in 6. The Kings have made me look silly in consecutive rounds. I picked against them versus the Canucks and I picked against them versus the Blues. It only took them nine games to dispatch both. I'm not picking against them again.
For me, this one's simple: the Kings have the goaltending to match the Coyotes, and they outmatch Phoenix everywhere else. The Coyotes are brilliantly structured, but so are the Kings, and they simply have more firepower.
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