SCH's First Round Preview - The Coyotes' Blue Line
Moving right along from the crease out to the blue line, it's now time to take a look at the Coyotes' defensemen, which feature faces both underrated and familar. While #1 d-man Keith Yandle enjoyed a breakout campaign last year, he still landed himself only 5th in Norris Trophy voting and probably deserved better, and even that did little to establish him in the daily conversation of the NHL's premier puck moving rearguards. But there's more to the corps than just Yandle, so take a gander after the jump.
#3 / Defenseman / Phoenix Coyotes
Sep 09, 1986
|2011 - Keith Yandle||82||11||32||43||5||51||0||0||2||196|
#53 / Defenseman / Phoenix Coyotes
Aug 24, 1978
|2011 - Derek Morris||59||2||9||11||-12||38||0||0||0||72|
On the top pair, the Hawks will see the aforementioned Yandle, as well as the veteran Derek Morris. As was mentioned in the open, Yandle features the approximate skillset of Duncan Keith, though as we can see by the scoring totals, Yandle is able to actually get his shot through traffic on occasion. All 11 of those goals have come at even strength as well, and only 11 of his assists were on the power play, so it's clear that Yandle's offensive strength comes from pushing the play 5 on 5. However, for all that offense produced at even strength, Yandle's a meager +5, and just barely above water with Behind the Net while facing inferior competition, so he can be made to run around in his own end.
Accompanying Yandle is Derek Morris, whose game has always been that of a homeless man's Rob Blake. Morris has always played larger than his 6' frame would indicate, but time is catching up with him and the wheels just aren't there anymore (not that they were any great shakes to begin with). As such, he's been relegated to more of a stay at home role covering for Yandle, which has cut down on his ability to be physical. He still has a bomb of a right-handed shot however, which has to be accounted for.
#33 / Defenseman / Phoenix Coyotes
Jul 03, 1973
|2011 - Adrian Aucoin||64||2||7||9||14||42||1||0||0||92|
#23 / Defenseman / Phoenix Coyotes
Jul 17, 1991
|2011 - Oliver Ekman-Larsson||82||13||19||32||0||32||2||1||2||147|
Ahh yes, our old friend, Captain Au-Groin. Fittingly enough, Aucoin missed the Coyotes' last two regular season games, but figures to be back into the lineup for Thursday. Aucoin still brings the same lumbering skating style and rocket of a shot from the blue line, but is now being asked to perform a different role- shepherding the young Ekman-Larsson. Aucoin has economized his game and played things safe and allowed OEL to roam free, and it's paid dividends for him. And while he can still be a physical force in tight, he can be beaten to the outside with speed same as always, though the problem then becomes getting through the Yotes forwards in the neutral zone, but that's more for tomorrow's breakdown.
His partner, Oliver Eman-Larsson, has enjoyed a breakout campaign of his own, and has given the Coyotes something they haven't seen much of in the Dave Tippett era - a puck mover on the second pairing. And while OEL is a fantastic skater and rarely out of position, he's still incredibly light in the ass at 176 lbs and 6-2. Finding Hawk forwards willing to make him pay in the corners will be key in forcing him to make mistakes...if they can catch him. Those same forwards will need to be diligent in their backchecking as well, as Ekman-Larsson has found a knack for jumping into the play late.
#32 / Defenseman / Phoenix Coyotes
Sep 03, 1978
|2011 - Michal Rozsival||54||1||12||13||8||34||0||0||0||49|
#16 / Defenseman / Phoenix Coyotes
Mar 21, 1982
|2011 - Rostislav Klesla||65||3||10||13||13||54||0||0||0||87|
And here's where there can be matchups to be exploited.
While Michal Roszival and Rusty Klesla boast the best combined +/- of any of the Coyotes' three pairings, their lack of mobility may end up doing them in over the course of a series against a fully equipped Hawks forward corps. Roszival's passing ability is pretty solid, and has been known to pick a corner or two with a shot in his day, but neither possess anywhere near the offense of Yandle or OEL, and that's why they're both down here. Both are large men, which will aid them well in the hard areas of the ice. However, between the two of them, only Klesla has consistently shown a willingness to use his size and physicality over the course of his career. He's especially willing to use it in the areas around his opponents' knees, as a matter of fact. Just ask Tuomo Ruutu.