Special teams key for Coyotes, Blackhawks
GLENDALE, Ariz. – When asked the three keys to beating the Phoenix Coyotes in a first-round NHL playoff series, Chicago Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa told reporters: "Power play, power play, power play."
If either team has to rely on that aspect of their game to advance to the second round, they could be in trouble. Chicago finished the regular season ranked 26th with the man-advantage (15.2 percent) and was one of the league's worst teams over the final month of the season.
Phoenix finished 29th out of the 30 teams (13.6) on a power play that was so bad the running joke in the press box was that a Coyotes' power play was akin to removing two minutes from the game clock without incident.
"I don't think it's one specific thing you can point to," defenseman Keith Yandle said. "It's almost like we have to relax, take a breath out there and play the game we can play on the power play."
Chicago can at least make the excuse that captain Jonathan Toews missed the final 22 games of the season, removing a key piece from the unit. The Coyotes have skilled wingers in Radim Vrbata and Ray Whitney, but the lack of a play-making center and consistent zone-entry have been among the many issues.
"We've got to find a way to make our power play effective," said coach Dave Tippett, whose club did just that in last season's playoffs against Detroit. "If you're not scoring, at least you've got to generate momentum off them.
"The work ethic and the ability to get the puck to the net -- to me, that generates energy. We've got some people who can score, but the majority of our goals on the power play have come from hard plays around the net, and I think that will have to continue."
At least the Coyotes have one special-teams advantage. Their penalty-killing unit ranked eighth in the league (85.5 percent) and was consistent throughout the year. Chicago's penalty killing unit ranked 27th in the league and was an Achilles' heel all season – a glaring example of the team's inability to play in its own zone.
"Last year against Detroit, it seemed the only way we could score was on the power play -- our power play was unbelievable," Vrbata said. "The playoffs are a new season, so maybe we can get something going. We'll need to. Special teams will be huge for us in this series and they will say the same."
Here's a look at all of the matchups.