The Phoenix Coyotes are in the midst of a typical Phoenix Coyotes season. A mostly underwhelming, yet somewhat promising, fringey playoff-bound team. The Arizona group has amassed a record of 36-27-12, earning them 84 points, the 8th seed in the West and clinging to the second, and final, wild card spot, one point up on the high-flying Dallas Stars.
And yes, there are far scarier potential first-round playoff opponents for Blues’ fans to dwell upon in the last 15 days of the regular season, but the truth is that no top Western team wants to face the Glendale Grind; a physical, gritty, systematic, defensive-minded team game that seems to stifle the NHL’s top goal scoring clubs.
The Coyotes rely heavily on the in-tune defensive and aggressive offensive prowess of Massachusetts native, Keith Yandle. He leads the team with 51 points and quarterbacks a power play for the ‘Yotes that is scoring on 20.4% of their man-advantage opportunities, good for fifth best in the entire NHL. Up front, Blues killer and captain, Shane Doan, carries the load while Mike Ribeiro, Antoine Vermette and Radim Vrbata add the scoring punch to make this team a handful, even for the best defensive clubs in the game.
The Blues have the edge against the Coyotes in the season series, winning two of the three matchups and outscoring Phoenix eight to six. Each game was a hard-fought, intense battle, and depending on how the next two weeks play out, the Blues have a very good chance of spending some time in the desert sun come late April. The teams matchup quite evenly, however the Blues depth will give them upper hand in this series. Let’s take a look at how it all breaks down.
While Phoenix’s physical presence and scoring depth on the wing may be able to help the team steal some games in February, they are no doubt outmatched against the Stanley Cup contending St. Louis team that has scored 240 goals since October, averaging 3.1 per game which is fourth highest in the league.
Jaden Schwartz, a 21-year-old superstar in the making, will start becoming a major talking point in Coyotes coaches’ meetings, as his explosive getaway speed and Sakic-like hands and scoring touch coupled with the new-found confidence in this 2nd line winger, will give the Blues layers in their offensive attack. He, along with the 176 combined points of the top line in St. Louis, will no doubt prove to be an issue for Yandle and the Canadian Gold medalist in net, Mike Smith.
The Blues have as much skill and depth on the blue line as any team in the world. With the top pair of Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester both on the ice for nearly half the game, St Louis has the luxury of keeping Kevin Shattenkirk well rested and ready for all penalty kill and power play situations. The Big Three on D are not only among the top shut down defenseman in the league, they’ve also compiled 21 goals and 109 assists for 130 points so far this season. They are a forced to be reckoned with on every inch of the ice.
And sure, Yandle and (sometimes) Oliver Ekman-Larsson play with a similar force to their game as the Big Three, but the rest of the Coyotes lineup on the back-end is full of no names and Derek Morris.
In his first 13 games for his new franchise, Ryan Miller has led St Louis to nine regulation wins and four losses while saving 91.2% of the shots faced and allowing an average of 2.18 goals per game. To an outsider looking in, these stats seem impressive. But watching Miller play over the last couple weeks, including a forgettable start against the Dallas Stars on Saturday, there are still major question marks about his ability to steal games, stand on his head and exude the composure that will be necessary for a long run into June.
The opposing goaltender in Phoenix, Mike Smith, like Miller, has himself earned the tag of one of the top netminders in the world; A tag that earned both keepers a roster spot on their respective Olympic hockey teams in Sochi. But the difference with Smith is he has proven recently, over the past two or three seasons, that he is actually capable of standing on his head and eking out wins for his teammates. He uses his large 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame to take up the majority of the net, which has and will continue to make goal scoring hard to come by for the Blues offense.
POTENTIAL SERIES PREDICTION
Phoenix will win if…
Mike Smith plays better hockey than he’s ever played in his life and is able to shut down the Blues’ dominant offensive attack. And… actually, yeah, that’s the only way the ‘Yotes will win.
Blues will win if…
They play Blues hockey, like they have all year, and Ryan Miller plays better than what we’ve seen so far.
Blues would win 4-1.