With their win on Saturday night, the Phoenix Coyotes clinched the Pacific Division title and a first round playoff matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks.
So how do the two teams stack up? Let’s take a look.
We have already talked about how the Blackhawks performed in the regular season games against the Coyotes, noting the Hawks 1-2-1 record against Phoenix. The key point to remember, however, is that the two teams haven’t played each other since Feb. 11, and a lot has changed since then (Johnny Oduya in, Jonathan Toews out).
The Hawks are the six seed, but they come into the series with more points, regulation and overtime wins, and a similar goal differential to the Coyotes.
Chicago was the second-highest scoring team in the Western Conference (behind Vancouver)… but they allowed 29 more goals than any other playoff team in the West and have the lowest goal differential in the conference.
It’s a known issue in Chicago that the Blackhawks have a bad power play; they finished the year scoring on only 15.2 percent of their opportunities with a man “advantage,” which ranked 26th in the NHL.
But the Coyotes finished the year as one of the four teams with a lower power play efficiency than the Hawks. Phoenix scored on only 13.6 percent of their opportunities, which ranked 29th in the NHL.
Chicago’s penalty kill also left a lot to be desired this season, ranking 27th in the league (78.1 percent). Phoenix boasted the 8th-ranked PK unit in the NHL this year (85.5 percent).
At the Dot
Chicago and Phoenix were nearly identical in faceoffs this year. The Blackhawks ranked 12th (50.6 percent), while the Coyotes ranked 15th (50.2 percent). However, the asterisk on the Blackhawks’ team number is that Toews, arguably the best faceoff man in the league, is a question mark for the series. If Toews can’t go, Jamal Mayers (56 percent) is the best Hawks’ faceoff man, with Dave Bolland and Marcus Kruger both coming in under 49 percent this season.
We don’t need to dive too deeply into what the Blackhawks stars have done this year; if you’re at this site, you know that Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane have played exceptionally well in the absence of Toews. Chicago will come into the series with five 20-goal scorers (including Toews’ 29) and three players with at least 65 points (Kane, Sharp and Hossa).
The Coyotes were led by former-Blackhawk Radim Vrbata’s career-high 35 goals and ancient warrior Ray Whitney’s 77 points. But only three players on the Coyotes roster (Vrbata, Whitney and captain Shane Doan) had more than 43 points this year. It’s worth noting that Viktor Stalberg scored as many goals this year – 22 – as Doan. Phoenix has the second-oldest team in the Western Conference playoffs (behind Detroit).
There’s really no way to sugarcoat this: the Coyotes have the advantage between the pipes. Mike Smith has emerged as a darkhorse candidate for Vezina consideration down the stretch, posting a .930 save percentage and eight shutouts this season (three of which came consecutively in the last two weeks) this season.
However, Corey Crawford’s season-long numbers aren’t as strong as his recent play. Since March 1, Crawford has an 8-1-2 record with a .921 save percentage and 1.85 goals against average in 11 appearances.
What Does It Mean
Phoenix has the home ice advantage, but the Coyotes were tied with the Kings for the fewest home wins – 22 – of the eight playoff teams in the Conference. The Blackhawks won 27 games at the United Center; only St. Louis and Detroit had more home victories among the eight remaining teams in the West.
Chicago will have to win a game in Phoenix to advance (obviously), but that is certainly possible. The Blackhawks have only lost one road game that didn’t end in a shootout since the trade deadline, and will need to continue that excellent play to see the second round.
Prediction: Blackhawks in six (with or without Toews)