NHL Playoffs: 5 Changes the Phoenix Coyotes Need to Make Heading into Game 3

Isaac SmithAnalyst IApril 30, 2012

NHL Playoffs: 5 Changes the Phoenix Coyotes Need to Make Heading into Game 3

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    The Phoenix Coyotes are now up two games to none in their NHL playoff series with the Nashville Predators after a 5-3 win in Glendale, Arizona on Sunday night.

    But the Coyotes still have to win another two games and three of the next five games are on the road.

    The Coyotes took all three road games in their last series against the Chicago Blackhawks, so they know a little something about winning on the road.

    The Coyotes' 2-0 series lead puts them in the driver's seat for the remainder of this series, with the opportunity now to go on the road and try and steal a game in Nashville.

    But in order for that to happen, the Coyotes still need to improve on quite a few aspects of their game.

    But what five parts of their game will need to be addressed before Wednesday's Game 3 in Nashville?

1. Fix the Penalty Kill

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    Nashville has scored six goals in this series.

    Three of them have been on the power play.

    The Coyotes are four out of seven on the penalty kill in the series and 0-2 last game.

    A 57 percent penalty kill isn't going to get the job done usually, and it almost cost the Coyotes back in Game 1 when they let Martin Erat score on the power play in the third period and were outshot 16-1 in the period.

    Had Mike Smith not stood on his head, this series might not be 2-0 for Phoenix.

2. Get More Shots to the Net (and Not as Many Blocked)

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    After firing 63 shots (scoring nine goals in the process) at the Nashville net in two games, the last thing you might hear someone say is that Phoenix needs more shots on goal.

    But it is not the shots on goal that Phoenix needs, but the fact that Nashville has blocked 35 shots in two games against Phoenix, including 20 last game.

    Blocked shots can ruin a team's offensive zone time as well as lead to odd-man rushes the other way.

    It is vital to shoot either on goal, or put the puck down low in the corners if Phoenix wants to stay on top in this series.

    Fast breaks are great opportunities for teams to turn defense into offense, and if the Coyotes were watching the Predators-Red Wings series, they'll know how little time Nashville needs to park the puck in the opposition's net on an odd-man rush.

3. Balance out the Ice Time Among Players

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    In the playoffs, it is important to be able to roll four lines and not get any specific line of players over-tired from playing too much.

    Looking at the Coyotes playing time, a couple players jump out who haven't played a lot:

    Kyle Chipchura and Gilbert Brule.

    Both players had a goal and an assist in the Game 6 trouncing of the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, and it will be important to get them increased ice time as the series goes on because they are averaging less than 10 minutes (in Brule's case under nine minutes) of ice time per game.

    On the other side, Oliver Ekman-Larsson has played almost 52 minutes out of the 120 minutes from the two games; not bad for a 20-year-old.

    Derek Morris is also logging some serious minutes as well with over 53 minutes over the two games.

    If Nashville is able to win both games at home, these big minutes played in earlier games in the series could come back to hurt the Coyotes in later games in this series.

4. Stick to the Script and Just Play Their Game

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    On paper, hardly anyone gave the Coyotes a shot at beating Nashville before this series started.

    That's because Nashville is widely regarded as one of the deeper (if not the deepest) team in the league, both offensively and defensively.

    Now that Nashville is down 2-0 in the series going back home, expect things to start getting a little bit chippy in Games 3 and 4 if things do not go the Predators way.

    The Coyotes simply must play their brand of hockey, but pay extra close attention to discipline and not acknowledging the Nashville smack talk that will likely come in an effort to get the Coyotes off of their game mentally.

    Phoenix has no choice if it wants to win this series because the Predators power play is powering along (see slide one) at over 42 percent.

5. Keep Playing Like an Underdog

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    The Coyotes are certainly playing like underdogs in this series.

    Indeed, the desert dogs have been playing like they have nothing to lose.

    The Coyotes have been back-checking hard, crashing the net on rebounds and staying focused and disciplined when it counts.

    They even have a solid goaltender in Mike Smith to go with all of the above.

    The Coyotes will pull the upset in this series if they remember that they really are underdogs, and they have nothing to lose.

    The Coyotes do not have an official owner (other than the NHL), and they are in the midst of financial and organizational turmoil with losing tens of millions of dollars year after year.

    All of these problems stay on the back burner as long as they keep on winning.

    The only way they can ensure that they don't lose this series is to remember that at the beginning of the season, no one had them finishing as division champions and beating the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs.

    But here they are; six wins in, and ten wins to go.

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