GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 29: Rostislav Klesla #16 of the Phoenix Coyotes returns to the ice with an extended visor after being hit in the face by a puck in the first period of Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Nashville Predators during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Jobing.com Arena on April 29, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Predators 5-3. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The Coyotes realized they'd need to do better in terms of puck possession in Game 2. They did just that, and the inclusion of their defensemen in the offensive game was a major part of the improved pressure on the Predators' defense.
The Phoenix Coyotes have often used the shell-and-pray technique -- that is, falling into a defensive shell and praying to their Lord and Savior, goalie Mike Smith -- this postseason, and they tried it once against the Nashville Predators in Game 1. They came away lucky with the overtime win, but they knew they'd have to make adjustments if they wanted to advance any further. So in Game 2, Phoenix kept Nashville out of their own end and was able to get themselves a five-spot on Pekka Rinne and the Preds, winning 5-3.
The line of Ray Whitney, Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata was huge in Game 2. Aside from Hanzal's faceoff wins giving his team a boost in puck possession, the trio was also the major cause of Nashville's mistakes in the Predators' own end and produced the first two-goal lead for Phoenix.
However, it was most important to get offense from the blueline to come up with the win. Pressure from the Coyotes' defensemen was (and will continue to be) necessary to beat the Predators' stingy defense and goaltending, and since Nashville's a team that gets plenty of production from defense, Phoenix had to find a way to match.
Before Sunday night, Rostislav Klesla led all NHL defensemen in postseason scoring with two goals and six points. Unfortunately for him, he took a puck to the face 33 seconds into Game 2 and had to head to the dressing room. Klesla would return, but only played 8:37 in total. With minimal play for Klesla, the responsibility fell much heavier on the other Phoenix defenders -- not only around the Coyotes' net, but to also remain involved offensively.
First in line was Keith Yandle, who was the Coyotes' fourth-leading scorer and the top-producing defenseman (by far) on their roster during the regular season. Yandle had five postseason points to start Game 2 and was paired with Derek Morris. By the end of the night, the two were involved in three of Phoenix's five goals.
Offense from the defense seems to be a lot harder to come by in the playoffs considering the target that offensive defensemen have in the matchup game. It's why Klesla's six points leads all blueliners over players like Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Mike Green and Erik Karlsson, among others. It's also why Klesla's six points are a serious advantage for the Coyotes, much like Kevin Klein's performance in Round 1 for Nasvhille was key in the Preds' victory over Detroit. Klesla, along with the other defensemen that stepped up in Game 2, will need to continue to score against Rinne and the Preds.
This, coupled with a more disciplined game for Phoenix, kept the Predators on their toes all night in their own end, and the Predators were unable to get better offensive opportunities for themselves.
Of course, as Dave Tippett made proper adjustments to fare better in Game 2, Barry Trotz will likely make adjustments himself to counter in Phoenix's Game 3 performance.