The Phoenix Coyotes pride themselves on quality team defense and great goaltending. They don’t have any stars on their roster, so they work hard to keep the puck of their net – and they do a good job of it.
Defensively, Dave Tippett’s club likes to keep everything to the outside, which makes it difficult for opponents to score on them. That means the Predators will have to find a way to get some scoring chances on the inside their upcoming series against the Coyotes.
“We have to make sure we’re getting on the inside and driving through,” said center Mike Fisher. “We can’t play a perimeter game with outside shots because [Mike] Smith is hot and he’s seeing them all, making easy saves, controlling rebounds. We have to make sure he’s not seeing them, get hungry and be buzzing around the net.”
Smith is arguably the hottest goaltender in the NHL right now. Dating back to March 29th, he has a 9-2 record with a 1.20 goals-against average and .968 save percentage. He also recorded a .950 save percentage in the first round.
The Predators have preached all week that they want to get net presence in front of Smith.
“We need to get traffic in front of him and make sure we’re not turning up shots,” Fisher said. “If he can’t see pucks it’s going to be hard on him. We have to do a good job of that.”
In the first round, Smith and the Coyotes were able to frustrate the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that has a fair amount of firepower. Even though the Blackhawks recorded 40 shots per game, their prime scoring chances were limited; and when they got those chances, Smith was there to close the door.
“We can’t be frustrated if we’re not going to get scoring chances,” said forward Patric Hornqvist, one of a few Predators that doesn’t mind setting up shop near the crease. “We know what we have to do to create scoring chances. We have to go to the net hard and take the puck there. If they want to clog up the middle we’ll have to hold onto the puck an extra second and find the openings.”
Predators head coach Barry Trotz knows that the more traffic his team is able to get in front of Smith, the more goals they’ll be able to score.
“You have to fight to get into the interior. If you’re going to be on the outside you’re going to lose, plain and simple,” Trotz said. “We’ll have to fight for the inches.”