The Phoenix Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings weren’t even guaranteed a
playoff spot until the last couple of weeks of the regular season, but, as it
turns out, they’re the last two teams left standing in the Western Conference. Will the Kings finally be tested?
The Kings have vaulted to the top of the NHL futures as
they’re now deemed the team to beat. They manhandled the Vancouver Canucks and then
were perfectly tailored to beat the St. Louis Blues.
Meanwhile, the Coyotes have been very exciting to watch.
They blew several leads against Chicago but still ousted them in six games.
Then they disposed of the Nashville Predators in five games while making Vezina
Trophy candidate Pekka Rinne look like James Reimer.
The Kings have the bigger names but don’t underestimate
the Coyotes. The Chicago Blackhawks also had bigger names, but the Coyotes
managed to frustrate them too.
Phoenix has four lines of energy and is receiving
contributions from just about everyone. 13 different Coyotes have scored this
postseason. Two of their players (Antoine Vermette and Boyd Gordon) are in the
Top 5 for faceoffs, and this unit makes all the sacrifices necessary to win
Meanwhile, the Kings will have the bigger brand names:
Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, and Dustin Brown. They’ll have to be
the difference just as they have been all postseason. The Achilles heel for the
Kings this season was their offense. In the playoffs, it’s been clicking, and if
it continues, they’ll be hard to stop.
Both teams have reached this point because of their blue
lines as well. Both units have a primetime minutes-eater (Drew Doughty, for the
Kings and Keith Yandle, for the Coyotes) and several lesser-known players
What’s to like about the Coyotes units a little bit more
is that they’ve done a fantastic job of collapsing in front of Mike Smith and
blocking a ton of shots. If they continue to do so, it’s hard to see the Kings
averaging 3.00 goals per game as they have so far in the playoffs.
Are there two goalies in the NHL playing better than
Jonathan Quick and Mike Smith? Quick, a Vezina Trophy candidate, is coming off
a series where he allowed six goals in a four-game sweep of St. Louis. He has a
1.55 GAA in the playoffs with a .949 save percentage.
But Smith has been equally phenomenal, as he’s 8-3 in the
playoffs with a 1.77 GAA and a .948 save percentage. That’s impressive, considering he’s faced 126 more shots than Quick. Smith has allowed just one
goal in the last 168 minutes and 36 seconds of action.
Quick was 3-1-2 with a 1.79 GAA and two shutouts against
the Coyotes this season while Smith was 3-1-1 against the Kings this season
with a 1.76 GAA and one shutout. This is about as even as it gets.
As wildly unpredictable as these playoffs have been, are
you really expecting a pick?
Of course, the Kings are favored as they’ve won eight of
nine playoff games and at no point have they even been threatened. They have more
star power, and the public is backing them. Meanwhile, the Coyotes are a team
that’s somewhat been lucky in the public’s eye, blowing late leads yet
surviving in overtimes.
These teams are Pacific Division rivals and know each
other well but they look different than they did in the regular season. The
Coyotes are clicking while the Kings are scoring more.
I’m going to go against the grain here and take the
Coyotes. For starters, this is a perfect matchup for them: a divisional team
that they’ve faced many times. Secondly, the Kings have looked impressive, but
Vancouver never brought their ‘A’ game, and the Kings dominated the Blues just
as they did in the regular season. We saw Philadelphia Flyers dominate the
Pittsburgh Penguins in the regular season and continue that in the playoffs,
and then one round later they looked like a different team.
It also concerns me that the Kings haven’t really been
faced with adversity, having held the lead throughout most of the playoffs
both in each game and in the series. We’ve yet to see how they respond to
adversity whereas we know how well the Coyotes can handle it.
The Kings aren’t going out in five games like
Philadelphia, but don’t be surprised if David Tippett pushes all the right
buttons. The Kings may have the bigger stars, but the Coyotes have home-ice
advantage and are playing better as a team.
Pick: Coyotes In Seven