In post 1 of 2 today (I hope), we'll take a last look at the defense before the puck drops at 7:00 PM ET tonight.
The Coyotes have found a solid blueliner in Keith Yandle. Yandle is in the Norris Trophy discussion this season for his play. In addition to being strong in the defensive zone, Yandle is a solid contributor in the offensive zone. At 24, Yandle is one of the better defensemen in the league and with his contract expiring after this year (he's a RFA), the Coyotes are going to have to pay up to keep him.
But enough about Yandle, let's get to the rest after the jump.
The Coyotes have to keep the goals against down because of how thinly spread their offense is, but it doesn't help that they give up the second most shots of playoff teams (28th overall in the League). The Coyotes are top 10 in even strength goals against (top meaning fewest) but are bottom 5 in the League in penalty killing so they will have to stay out of the box against a potent Red Wings' power play.
Keith Yandle, Ed Jovanovski, Adrian Aucoin, Derek Morris, Rotislav Klesla and Michal Rozsival are the starters for the Coyotes and together they average out to 6'2" and about 212 lbs. They're a fairly big defensive corps but don't seem to use that to hit all that much or block shots. As a group, they're pretty solid from top to bottom and are capable of playing well against the Red Wings. I think one of the biggest questions is will they be able to match the scoring depth that the Red Wings have with the depth of their defense?
Phoenix has used 8 defensemen that have played at least 30 games for the team this year. However, Sami Lepisto was sent to Columbus in exchange for Ratislav Klesla and the Coyotes acquired Michal Rozsival for Wojtek Wolski earlier in the season. The Coyotes have seemingly tightened up the defense with these transactions, but will it pay off in the postseason?
How to beat them: The Wings need to use their speed (Datsyuk, Helm, Draper, Eaves) to stretch the defense and also use their tape to tape passing to force the defense out of position. The majority of the Coyotes defenders are solid and well rounded but are sometimes prone to speed. (I kept that verbatim from last year, it still applies I think.)
Who to watch: Keith Yandle. Will Yandle be forced to contribute more on offense to keep the Coyotes on pace with the Red Wings? If so, his defensive game may suffer.
What is more intimidating for an offense than having to play Nicklas Lidstrom? That's right, nothing. Lidstrom is in his 40th (just about 41st) year on Earth but is playing like he's in his 25th-30th. The veteran defenseman has showed few signs of aging and is actually second on the team in scoring with 62 points (16-46). Lidstrom showed several times this year that he's still the best defenseman in the league. Got a 2-on-1? No problem. A 3-on-1? No problem either. There's no doubt that the captain of the Red Wings is ready to make a deep run, but he can't do it alone.
Outside of Lidstrom, the Red Wings are loaded. Unfortunately, the consistency of those players has wavered over the course of the season and that "loaded" line-up looks very vulnerable at times. Brian Rafalski is by far the most consistent of the remaining players, but even he has had his troubles this season with turnovers and positioning. Niklas Kronwall has taken about three steps back at times this year, but the playoffs might bring out the best in him as he may up his physical game. Jonathan Ericsson has been a back and forth player for the Wings this year, having games where he looks like he's never put on a pair of skates and others where he is a strong, stable presence. Ruslan Salei was one of the more consistent players over the course of the year, but his play has faltered quite a bit lately. All of them have showed that they're capable but it's a matter of making them play well at the same time.
The biggest struggle is finding the consistency. I think it's something that they will be able to do over the course of a playoff series and I think coaching will have a big impact on that. When they do find that consistency, there is going to be even more pressure on the Coyotes offense. The Coyotes do not score all too many goals and if the Wings play solid in front of Jimmy Howard they will have a very difficult task.
Edge: Detroit. Although I think the Phoenix defense is better than they're given credit for, the Red Wings have the edge on this.