Originally written April 24, 2012 on The Predatorial:
Our Western Conference Semifinals break down of the #3 Phoenix Coyotes vs the #4 Nashville Predators VS Who’s better? OFFENSE - NASHVILLE If you’re breaking this down by statistics so far out of the first round results, it would be a near push between both of these teams. Nashville man-handled a veteran Detroit team who had a ton of offensive talent up-front, good defense in their top d-line, and good goaltending. The Predators averaged 2.75 5-on-5 goals for/against the Wings over their 5 game series and scored 13 goals overall on Jimmy Howard. Phoenix took care of a fairly young Chicago team who played a high-flying offensive game just like Detroit, had a great top defensive pairing, and shaky goaltending. The Coyotes averaged only 1.10 5-on-5 goals for/against the Blackhawks over their 6 game series and scored 17 goals overall on Corey Crawford. Alexander Radulov, Gabriel Bourque, and David Legwand were the offensive juggernauts for the Preds, contributing 13 points in the 5 game series. Vermette, Yandle, Boedker, and Klesla led the Coyotes contributing 18 points in 6 games between the 4. While Corey Crawford has been a sieve for the Blackhawks all season, Jimmy Howard wasn’t for the Red Wings. Nashville’s ability to blast goals past the Wings netminder, on 5-on-5 at that, showcases the Predators ability to be able to score clean goals on good goaltenders. The weapons for the Coyotes didn’t have much to battle against with Crawford and it makes me doubt they’ll be on-par to duplicate their first round results when Rinne was able to stop the likes of Zetterberg, Franzen, Datsyuk, Hudler, Filppula, etc. Compared to Vermette, Yandle, Boedker, and Klesla? That doesn’t spell doom for Nashville like Detroit’s offense did. Overall, Nashville’s weapons outgun Phoenix’s weapons by a slight edge, on paper and potential in this series. Who’s better? DEFENSE - NASHVILLE With the return of Hal Gill to the lineup for the Predators, the scale pretty much is lopsided in favor of Nashville. Looking at both sides of the spectrum: Nashville – Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Hal Gill, Kevin Klein, Roman Josi, Francis Bouillon, Jack Hillen, and Ryan Ellis Phoenix – Keith Yandle, Rusty Klesla, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Derek Morris, Adrian Aucoin, Michal Rozsival, and David Schlemko All three of Nashville’s defensive pairings completely dominate Phoenix’s matchups. With the boost that Nashville’s bottom 4 defensemen (including swing defensemen Ellis and Hillen) gave during the series against Detroit, the depth and skill the Predators have on defense can’t be matched throughout by Phoenix. Who’s better? GOALTENDING – PUSH Even in the regular season, this still seems like a push in my opinion. REGULAR SEASON Pekka Rinne: 43-18-8, 2.39 GAA, .923 Sv%, 166 total goals allowed on 2153 shots faced Mike Smith: 38-18-10, 2.21 GAA, .930 Sv%, 144 total goals allowed on 2066 shots faced ROUND 1 Pekka Rinne: 4-1, 1.81 GAA, .944 Sv%, 9 total goals allowed on 160 shots faced Mike Smith: 4-2, 1.81 GAA, .950 Sv%, 12 total goals allowed on 241 shots faced THAT right there is the picture of equality. Both goaltenders know they can make the great saves when there teams need it the most. Mike Smith proved it last night in Game 6 when he stopped a barrage of shots all night long, stopping all 39 shots including 28 over the course of the first two periods. Pekka Rinne proved it in BOTH games in Detroit (3 and 4), stopping 81 of 84 shots as the Red Wings threw EVERYTHING they could at him. It’ll be interesting to see which goaltender breaks first. While my money is on Mike Smith to be the goaltender on the losing side of this fight, the only time this season these two behemoths faced off against each other was on March 12th: A 5-4 Nashville win in a shootout. Makes you wonder if the goaltenders are SO good they won’t be able to stop anything?….which doesn’t make too much sense, but the writing is already on the wall. Who’s better? SPECIAL TEAMS - PHOENIX Boy oh boy, what happened to Nashville’s stout powerplay during the first round against Detroit? After finishing the regular season with the number one powerplay in the league, Nashville’s man advantage was all but invisible in the first round going 2 for 22 (9.1%, 15th out of 16 teams). Phoenix on the other hand? 4 for 19 (21.0%, 6th out of 16 teams) against a ugly Chicago penalty kill. Granted, the Coyotes were going up against a weaker overall Chicago team then how Nashville was going up against Detroit. Yet, still, Nashville’s deadly powerplay was silenced while Phoenix went scored on a little over 1/5 of all of their powerplays. Penalty Kill? Things don’t look that much better. Nashville finished top ten in penalty killing at the end of the season, but was shorthanded a preposterous 23 times in 5 games, allowing 4 goals (79% kill rate, 10th out of 16 teams). Phoenix on the other hand? 19 times shorthanded over 6 games allowing only ONE goal (94.7 kill rate, BEST in the playoffs currently). If Nashville’s powerplay was invisible in the first round, it may be difficult to get rolling in the second against Phoenix’s penalty kill. Yet, as we won’t know until the puck drops on Friday, currently Phoenix has the definitive edge. The X-Factor: Detroit Red Wings – MIKE SMITH Mike Smith faced a barrage of shots from the Chicago Blackhawks and lived to tell the tale after a 6 game overtime-filled slugfest with the 2010 Stanley Cup champions, giving the Phoenix Coyotes their first playoff series win since moving to the desert from Winnipeg. Yet, if the Yotes want to move on to the Western Conference Finals, then Mike Smith is going to have to stone the Nashville Predators. It’s reasonably a tough feat to do, seeing that the Predators have some DEFINITE weapons on their lineup that were able to beat Jimmy Howard over 5 games. Can Mike Smith do the same job? He’ll need to if Phoenix wants to advance The X-Factor: Nashville Predators – PATRIC HORNQVIST/MIKE FISHER/MARTIN ERAT SILENCE from these players in the first round, Hornqvist/Fisher/and Erat combined for a total of 5 assists between them. That’s going to have to improve if Nashville wants to taste the conference finals for the first time in their franchise history. Mike Fisher knows what it takes to go deep in the playoffs, he did it before with Ottawa, going all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals before losing to Anaheim. Fisher and Erat are both going to have to find their scoring touch they seemed to have lost in the first round. Both were victims of the crossbar multiple times throughout the series and perhaps the Hockey Gods will move that black piece of rubber a couple of centimeters in this series. As for Hornqvist? He’s going to have to screen out Mike Smith. Nashville’s forwards did a great job in the first round of screening out Jimmy Howard, and they will absolutely have to do the same (plus more) against Mike Smith, who saw nearly everything that came his way against Chicago. Hornqvist has a Holmstrom-like presence at the net and draws the ire of many a player when he plants himself in the crease. If Nashville wants a mid-May date in round 3, THESE players have to get to work. Game By Game Prediction: Game 1: Nashville 2, Phoenix 1 (OT) Game 2: Phoenix 2, Nashville 1 Game 3: Nashville 2, Phoenix 0 Game 4: Phoenix 3, Nashville 2 Game 5: Nashville 3, Phoenix 1 Game 6: Nashville 3, Phoenix 2 (OT) Final – Nashville wins the series over Phoenix, 4 games to 2 I toyed with the idea that all of these games could go to overtime and it would be a 7 game series, however I just don’t see it. Low scoring? Yes. Close games? Absolutely. Overtime? We’ll see it. However after a 4 game split between the two clubs, Nashville will grab the Game 5 swing-game and finish things off in the friendly confides of Bridgestone Arena, where they wouldn’t have it any other way.  
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