At this point, there aren’t a whole lot of people with their money on the Phoenix Coyotes in the Western Conference Final. The fancy stat crowd in particular has been lauding the Kings for weeks now (on this site as well), and with just cause – they’re a good team who’s underachieved all year.
But the thorn in the side of those “hockey geeks” is the fact that hockey is a stupid game, and the sport is about as predictable as salamander racing, which if not already a thing, should be. With hockey, underdogs can play the game in a way that maximizes their chances of scoring “lucky” goals, which is exactly what the Coyotes do.
The Kings have one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. They’re the stingiest team in NHL playoffs defensively, giving up 1.56 goals-against per game. You’re not going tic-tac-toe on their team D, and more importantly, you’re not beating Jonathan Quick clean with a shot. It’s one of the reasons the Canucks couldn’t get past the Kings – as Brooks Laich recently explained hockey ”You can defend against skill.”
But of course, you can’t plan for bounces.
To beat great goaltending, you have to acknowledge the value of the luck factor, and “buy as many lottery tickets as possible,” which is just a way of saying “Screen shots, redirect pucks, smack at every rebound, and who knows what’ll happen.” The exact way the Coyotes score the majority of their goals - gritty, intentionally lucky goals – is the best way to beat great goaltending, which as I’ve said, is a huge strength of the Kings. And with Phoenix also playing great team defense, they create good odds of winning by essentially making games against better teams a coin toss.
Talented teams can dish it about and rely on goals off rushes. Underdogs like the Coyotes succeed when they create chaos.
I understand that if you were to throw all the names from these two teams into a draft and re-picked teams for a game tonight, there’s about seven Kings who would go in the top 10. They obviously have more talent on their roster. But the roster they’ll be going up against in the next round is an egoless group with an identity, and they’ll stick to their lotto-gameplan.
Because they prey on that luck factor (again, tipped pucks, shots through traffic, etc), it doesn’t matter how good the team they play is. It’s nothing but leaving the game in the hands of the hockey gods, and they’re fine with that.
Everybody and their mother thinks LA is going to beat the Coyotes. If the Coyotes stick to their committment to play “Who knows?” offense, I have no touble picturing them squeaking past another team that’s better on paper.