Posted on: April 12, 2011 2:27 pm
Edited on: April 12, 2011 5:09 pm
We’ve been here before, right? The Coyotes, a team that has unanswered ownership issues, against the Red Wings, a team that now reached the playoffs 20 seasons in a row. The first-round series went the distance last season before the Wings cruised to a 6-1 victory in Game 7. The Coyotes' top scorers in that series, Wojtek Wolski, is now with the New York Rangers, but many of the combatants remain the same. The teams split the season series.
Here’s the breakdown:
Forwards: Henrik Zetterberg, the Red Wings’ top-scoring forward (80 points), will miss Game 1 of the series, his third consecutive game on the sideline after he suffered a lower-body injury. There are other veterans --- like Tomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen and Pavel Datsyuk – who can step in and fill the void. The Coyotes lost the services of Shane Doan in Game 3 of last year’s series to a separated shoulder. Doan was again the Coyotes’ most reliable scorer, although that’s not saying a lot. He was their only 20-goal scorer and led the team with 60 points. The Coyotes were in the middle of the pack in scoring (14th, 2.76 goals per game). Edge: Detroit.
Defense: Nicklas Lidstrom is still around, so that just about automatically makes the Wings’ one of the top defensive teams in hockey. But while he’s still garnering some Norris Trophy consideration, Lidstrom, who turns 41 at month’s end, had a negative plus-minus (minus-2) for the first time in his career. The Wings, who allowed the 23rd-most goals per game (2.89), were banged up this season. Brian Rafalksi missed time this season with a knee injury and back spasms and Niklas Kronwall is just getting back from an upper-body injury. The Coyotes are led by defenseman Keith Yandle, who was second on the team in scoring with 59 points, and have veterans Adrian Aucoin and Ed Jovanovski to help anchor a Phoenix defense that allowed 2.68 goals per game (tied for 12th-lowest) this season. Edge: Phoenix.
Special teams: This could be the biggest difference in these two teams in the series. If the Wings get Zetterberg back, they’ll have one of the league’s most potent scorers on the man advantage. He had 10 goals and 20 points on the power play this season. Holmstrom and Franzen also chipped in 10 goals on a power play that was fifth-best (22.3 percent) in the league. Phoenix’s PK killed off a middling 78.4 percent of changes, 26th overall in the league. The Coyotes’ power play also wasn’t all that impressive. It ranked 23rd in the regular season 15.9 percent, led by Doan (11 goals) and Radim Vrbata (10). Edge: Detroit.
Goalies: Jimmy Howard will be the man in the crease for the Red Wings again this playoff season. There is no real fallback position for Wings coach Mike Babcock since Chris Osgood is likely done for the season after hernia surgery and Joe MacDonald has no playoff experience. Howard's numbers this regular season (2.79 goals-against average and .908 save percentage) were off from last year’s marks, but you could chalk that up to a an ever-changing defense in front of him because of injuries. Likely because he’s in Phoenix, but Ilya Bryzgalov remains of the most underappreciated goalies. He’s often the reason the Coyotes find themselves in games since they allowed the third-most shots per game (32.6). Edge: Phoenix.
-- A.J. Perez
Photo: Getty Images