It's a well-known fact at this point that Mike Smith has carried the Phoenix Coyotes to the Conference Final, and he's been a major factor in their success all season, but it's impossible to advance this far without players contributing in supporting roles. Antoine Vermette is doing that better than perhaps any other.
Coyotes' general manager Don Maloney had his eye on a deadline trade, and as was the trend at this year's deadline, there wasn't all that much to be had. Yet Maloney saw the prototypical type of perfect deadline acquisition in Vermette, and he sent goalie Curtis McElhinney and two draft picks to the Columbus Blue Jackets for him in late February.
Vermette had struggled offensively for most of the year, but the change to Phoenix's defense-first system was expected to help the two-way center be more effective and, in turn, give the Coyotes a boost in Dave Tippett's system. Vermette never became an offensive threat in Phoenix during the regular season, but come playoff time, his value has paid dividends.
He has almost matched his regular season point total through 12 playoff games, leading Phoenix's scoring with nine points. More importantly, Vermette has been a big part of Phoenix's power play production, scoring three times when the team had the man advantage. Faceoffs also continue to be an advantage for Phoenix, especially in the previous round when the Coyotes faced another huge deadline acquisition in Paul Gaustad for the Nashville Predators. Gaustad was solid in the faceoff circle, but Vermette was even better, winning key draws in the offensive zone to keep Phoenix in the advantage. So far now, he is at 58.5 percent in faceoffs and is second on the team in hits behind captain Shane Doan.
In Game 1 against the Los Angeles Kings, Vermette's hustle forced the Kings' Drew Doughty to turn over the puck to Doan, who fed Mikkel Boedker a pass right in front of Jonathan Quick for goal to tie the game at 2-2.
The Coyotes have a pretty mean goaltender and a strong transition game that they've used to get up to this point. The Kings proved in Game 1 that they can match up well and eliminate much of what Phoenix does well, and it's a guy like Vermette who might provide the answers when Dave Tippett prepares his game plan for Game 2.