Playoff Preview: Phoenix Coyotes vs. Chicago Blackhawks

The Coyotes really have bad luck with drawing the worst possible first round opponents possible as their first round matchup is the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that a lot of people think are good enough to go to the Stanley Cup Finals. That’s not to say that Phoenix will be a complete pushover but the matchup doesn’t look very good for them at all. There are a couple playoff teams who I think Phoenix can defeat, but I’m not sure if the Blackhawks are one of those teams.

That said, the ‘Yotes have their advantages over the Blackhawks and could possibly win this series. We’ll look into those more after the jump.

Phoenix isn’t necessarily a bad team this year, the Hawks are just a lot better. The Coyotes are a borderline team in terms of puck possession and have benefited from having one of the strongest goaltending performances we’ve seen this year, so that’s going to raise a few eyebrows about how they will perform this post-season and the other underlying numbers don’t work in their favor at all. 

Team 5v5 FenClose 5v5 Tied
Phoenix 49.17 48.99
Chicago 52.82 52.91
Team 5v5 Sh% 5v5 Sv%
Phoenix 8.3% 0.93
Chicago 8.9% 0.908
Team PP Sh% PK Sv% PP SF/60 PK SA/60
Phoenix 10.9% 0.911 40.4 55.2
Chicago 10.6% 0.864 45.8 56

Chicago is better at controlling the play at even strength, they have better goal scorers, a tougher defense and a stronger powerplay. The only category where Phoenix has an advantage is goaltending and that’s actually by a wide margin. Mike Smith’s surprising season is the main reason why the Coyotes are the Pacific Division Champs and have home ice advantage while goaltending has been an issue all season for the Blackhawks.

The concern here is that Smith has driven so much of Phoenix’s success, it makes you wonder how far the team will go if he has a meltdown. Phoenix has some talented offensive players in Vrbata, Whitney, Yandle and Doan but the Blackhawks scoring depth is a lot more impressive and I like them more in that category, especially if Jonathan Toews returns.

As far as the special teams battles go, neither team has been particularly good on the powerplay or penalty kill so I see this as a wash. I think both teams have the talent to be successful on the powerplay but for whatever reason, it hasn’t worked out this year. Phoenix’s powerplay is especially bad at creating shots and entering the zone, which is crazy when you consider some of the talented puck-movers they have on defense. All Chicago does is give up shots on the penalty kill and Crawford hasn’t been stopping many of them, so this could be a chance for the Coyotes to break out. It’s the playoffs and small sample sizes tend to work in crazy ways.

That could work for the Blackhawks, as well because Phoenix’s penalty kill is not very good and, like the rest of their team, has been dependent on Mike Smith’s play. The Coyotes give up way too many shots on the penalty kill to maintain success, so Smith is going to have to keep playing at the rate he has if they don’t tighten things up.

Prediction

As great of a goalie Smith has been this season, I still do not like Phoenix in this matchup and see the Hawks taking it in five. The Blackhawks haven’t been getting good goaltending but they are a stronger team is just about every category and Smith’s play isn’t enough for me to take Phoenix in this series. I think that he is capable of stealing a few games but not the entire series unless the Coyotes powerplay starts to pick up. Phoenix trying to outplay the ‘Hawks at even strength is a disaster waiting to happen, so they might be better off taking advantage of the powerplay opportunities given to them and making the most of each one. As bad as their powerplay has been, Chicago’s PK is just as bad so there could be some potential here. That aside, I still think the Hawks win this one in five.

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