Nevertheless, in the first part of our Western Conference Finals Preview, we'll try to see if we can read anything into how they matched up and if we can figure out what to expect in the series.
(note: numbers correspond to % of ice time against; green=more time against, red=less, yellow=in between; L1= First Line, D1 = 1st Defensive Pair, etc)
- 2 of these games were coached by Murray and 4 by Sutter. All of these games were before the Kings traded Johnson for Carter and the Coyotes traded for Vermette. Also there were injuries and many line-up changes along the way.
- In spite of those facts there are still some interesting trends that we'll see if we can dissect. One such trend is that the Coyotes first defensive pairing consistently saw softer minutes. Yandle (and various partners) made up that pairing. This is consistent with how they use Yandle (an offensive defensemen) against everybody. They give him a lot of Offensive Zone starts (55%) and easy competition (Corsi Rel QoC -0.07) in an effort to generate more chances. So we can reasonable expect that Stoll and Fraser will see a lot of time against Yandle in this series.
- Their 2nd pairing has done the heavy lifting all year and is represented mostly by Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The young Dman (taken right after Brayden Schenn in the '09 draft) has been tasked with the shutdown role and that has been accelerated in the playoffs (he is now unquestionably the #1 defenseman) as his Ozone starts have been a slim 33%. I don't think it's any secret that Kopitar and Ekman-Larsson are going to see a lot of one another.
- The Coyotes depth at defense allows them to rely on their 3rd pairing for tougher minutes than most teams. As we can see above, the 3rd pair saw most of their time versus Richards (note: there was one case where the 2nd line was centered by Stoll as Richards played Kopitar's wing, which seems like ancient history).
- Forward lines seemed pretty straight forward except that the Richards line seemed to get "easier" minutes than usual against the Coyotes. Note how little time they saw versus their 1st line while getting more time against the 3rd. Usually Richards is all green against L1 and L2. This is something that could change as the Coyotes now have Vermette in the mix. Vermette has been centering the 2nd line of late and getting shutdown minutes against the opposing first line. If this trend continues look for Richards to see a lot of time versus Hanzal.
Next, let's see how the matchups brokedown between Home and Road splits:
- NOTE: All Kings home games against the Coyotes were coached by Sutter, the Master of Evil.
- First compare the Coyotes D1 between home and road games. When Yandle was in LA he got tougher minutes as he saw more time versus Richards (43.3% in LA, 28.3% in PHX).
- As a result Ekman-Larsson's job got slightly easier as he saw slightly less time against Kopitar (44.8% in LA, 57.1% in PHX)
- The biggest difference though was that the Kings attempted to exploit the 3rd pair in LA. In LA, the 3rd pair saw 40.6% of their time against Kopitar, while only 14.7% at PHX. This is something we'll definitely have to track as the series progresses.
- Kopitar's job was pretty much the same in PHX as it was in LA, but look for this to change a bit. The Coyotes have been relying on Vermette in a stopper role so it's reasonable to expect that he will see a lot of time against Kopitar at least in Phoenix.
- Richards' job was tougher in LA as he was used more against the top line. In PHX he saw more time against the 3rd. It would be my guess though that he's going to see a lot of time versus Hanzal in PHX. It'll be interesting to see how Sutter reacts in LA.
- One of the advantages to not having home ice is that you get to see how certain matchups played out in the first two games and can react accordingly. The Coyotes don't really now how Hanzal and Richards (nor Kopitar and Vermette for that matter) will matchup but, by the time they get to LA, Sutter will have a very good idea. So if a matchup hasn't gone well in the first two games it will only be further exploited in the next two. It's probably usually not a huge advantage but in this series (where there are quite a few unknowns) it could become a bigger factor.
- The Kings 3rd line was hard matched against the Coyotes 3rd line in LA while the matchup was more balanced in PHX. This is a trend that we'll likely see continued in the playoffs. Both teams have got to believe at this point that the Kings 3rd line is stronger than than Phoenix's based on their play of late.
- Dave Tippet attempted to get his L2 some softer minutes in PHX, while in LA their minutes where sheltered. The play of the Kings 4th line has improved though, it'll be interesting to track their results should Tippett attempt this again.
Finally, let's take a look at how Phoenix matched up against Nashville and using that, see if we can project what they may try against the Kings:
Also the Coyotes Line Combos for the series:
- L1 = Whitney-Hanzal-Vrbata
- L2 = Boedker-Vermette-Doan
- L3 = Pouliot/ Korpikoski-Gordon-Pyatt
- L4 = Brule-Langkow-Chipchura
- D1 = Ekman-Larsson-Rosival
- D2 = Morris-Yandle
- D3 = Aucoin-Klesla
- Vermette was hard matched against Fisher. The Predators don't have as clearly defined of a top line as the Kings do but I think it's reasonable to surmise that Vermette is their stopper. His Ozone start in the playoffs is a paltry 36.9%.
- They tried to rely on Hanzal as their main offensive threat and matched them against Legwand. Will they try this again against the Kings or will they look for softer matchups along the bottom 6?
- Boyd Gordon is also used mainly for defensive purposes. His Ozone % has been 27.5% for the playoffs. He was rolled evenly against the top 9 while seeing most of his time assisting in shutting down L1.
- Langkow was used exclusively against the bottom 6 and has received an Ozone% boost of 63% for the playoffs. This has worked well as their 4th line has actually given them the most goal production in the playoffs. The 4th line has been a huge reason why they've gotten this far. Keep an eye on them, the Kings bottom 6 will be faced with a difficult task in Phoenix trying to stop them (Brule vs Fraser!)
- Defensively, Yandle got the easy minutes, Aucoin pitched in with shutdown minutes and they relied heavily on Ekman-Larsson in the most difficult situations. I think it's reasonable to expect more of the same here.
- Will Kopitar be matched against Hanzal, as he was in the regular season, or will he be matched against Vermette (who the Coyotes only acquired after the final regular season meeting against the Kings)?
- If Vermette is in fact tasked with containing Kopitar, will Tippett try to get Hanzal out versus Richards or go for softer matchups along the bottom 6?
- Will the Coyotes shy away from using their bottom pair against Kopitar as they did in the regular season or rely on them more as they did against Nashville?
- How will Phoenix roll their 3rd line? Will they try to use them to help contain Kopitar or will they need to hard match them against the Kings 3rd if they continue their stellar play?
- Will Phoenix divert some of the top 6's minutes against the Kings 4th or will they try to hard match the 4ths in an effort to continue to generate scoring chances?
Others in the series: Intro.