Stanley Cup Preview: Detroit Red Wings vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
|Playoffs||Goals/GM||GA/GM||PP Pct.||PK Pct|
|Detroit Red Wings||3.69 (2)||2.12 (2)||25.7 (3)||73.7 (14)|
|Pittsburgh Penguins||3.82 (1)||2.76 (8)||19.3 (7)||83.6 (5)|
How good has Chris Osgood been? In a word: very. Most pundits doubted the 3 time Stanley Cup winner as he was quite average (3.09 goals against average and .887 save percentage- both stats which put him in the very bottom of the league) during the regular season. He was obviously keeping it in reserve for the post season. His goal against average is 2.06 which is the 2nd best overall and his save percentage is .925 (4th overall). I’ve watched the Wings pretty closely these playoffs and Osgood really has been their Conn Smythe candidate. The most pinnacle point came during Game 1 of the Columbus series where he stood on his head for the first 10 minutes of the game and really sent the message to his team, that they can trust him to be there, even when they are not. That message continues to be sent, with Game 5 in Detroit as another prime example of Osgood’s ability to win games for his team.
If you asked me for one word to describe Marc-Andre Fleury, I would probably say consistent. The former 1st overall pick’s numbers were not amazing (2.67 goals against average and .912 save percentage – middle of the pack numbers) during the regular season. Moving to the Playoffs his numbers have stayed similar with a 2.62 goals against average (7th overall) and his save percentage is .906 (7th overall). Now I haven’t watched as much of the Pens this year but what I have seen is Fleury make some ridiculously, acrobatic saves at the right time. None more timely than his breakaway save on Alexander Ovechkin in Game 7 of the Conference Semi Finals. It appears that he learnt from last season’s tilt with the Wings and should be great when he faces them in the Cup re-match.
One guys goes down, the next guy in line steps up. Detroit is so deep, that without Lidstrom and Ericsson, who was supposed to replace him but had to have emergency surgery, they manage to hold Chicago to 31 shots and they blocked 10 shots in Game 5. Both Rafalski and Kronwall played close to 29 minutes and with Lidstrom and his 13 points (most for a defenceman in playoffs) expected back for Saturday’s Game 1, the Detroit defence is looking very, very strong. These guys can score, make great passes and as Marty Havlat and R.J Umburger can attest, they can hit as well.
Despite the suggestions that the Pittsburgh defence would be too slow and lumbering to contain other team’s forwards they have shown that they can get it done. Mark Eaton leads the playoffs at +10, with Hall Gill a respectable +6. As expected Sergei Gonchar has anchored the powerplay and sits just behind Lidstrom in 2nd spot overall in terms of points. Scuderi has been asked to shut down the other team’s top lines and has been quite successful in doing so. And it appears that Brooks Orpik isn’t too shy about laying out the hits.
So Datsyuk was out for 3 games of the Western Conference Finals, Hossa only scores during Game 4’s and somehow the Wings are advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals. I’ve said it for 3 rounds and will continue to say that this team’s depth is insane. On the front end you have guys who you expect to produce such as Zetterberg, Hossa and Franzen. Then you have the 2nd tier guys like Cleary, Filppula, Samuelsson, Holmstrom and Hudler who are also scoring. And when even the young guns like Helm, Abdelkader, and Kopecky are contributing, it really does show your team’s depth at forward.
While the Pens aren’t as deep as the Wings, they have the most dangerous duo in hockey in Crosby and Malkin who are somewhat reminiscent of a familiar duo from the 80’s, namely Gretzky and Messier (more on this comparison later). While Malkin was missing for awhile he has emerged as the big goal scorer for the Pens. Crosby continues to just grow as a hockey player and is very similar to Gretzky in the sense that he has the ability to make the players around him better and seems to have a fire in his eyes. If those two weren’t enough they have Jordan Staal who is just phenomenal on the penalty kill. I think the biggest addition has been Chris Kunitz who seems to have added that grit the Pens forwards were missing last season. And finally Bill Guerin is having somewhat of a renaissance and adds some Veteran leadership to this group.
Edge: Slight Pittsburgh
The Wings continue their torrid pace on the powerplay at 25.7%, good enough for 3rd overall in the playoffs. This ties into the idea of the Wings overall team depth. They just have too many good players that can be rolled out at you and it’s hard enough when its 5 on 5, but when you give these guys the advantage of an extra player, they often make you pay for it. On the other side of the coin, you have an anaemic Wings penalty kill. Unfortunately you cannot give Crosby, Malkin and Gonchar too many opportunities or they will burn you. The only solace that the Wings can take is they only give up 11.2 minutes per game in penalties. (Although this too has a caveat; the #1 team in limiting power play opportunities was Pittsburgh at 11.1 penalties per game).
The Pens aren’t as effective (19.3%) on the powerplay as the Wings but make this up with a pretty good penalty kill (83.6%). As we saw in the last series Jordan Staal is not just a shut down specialist, he can get many shorthanded opportunities so the Wings will want to limit the Penguins chances on the powerplay.
Many people are talking about the parallels between this re-match and the re-match between the Oilers/Islanders back in the early 80’s. For those too young to remember in 1983 the veteran Islanders spanked the young gun Oilers sweeping them on their way to winning their 4th straight Stanley Cup. The next year saw a re-match but it appeared that Gretzky and Co. were too hungry and won the Stanley Cup 4 games to 2. When you look at the Wings, every member of the team has a ring with the ironic exception of the two former Pens (Hossa and Conklin) whereas the hungry Pens for the most part (5 guys have rings) are looking to claim their first Cup.
I hope that Fleury doesn’t fall again coming out of the gate. That was an ominous omen.
Pens fans don’t lament Hossa switching allegiance.
I’m seeing my 1st Stanley Cup Finals game on Saturday night since 2004 when I saw game 6 in Calgary between the Flames and Lightning. Ticket price for Game 6 in Calgary: $75 CDN. Ticket price for Game 1 in Detroit: $190 US.
Illegal Curve Playoff Predictions:
In the end just Ezra and I picked Detroit to make the Stanley Cup out of all the IC contributors. I picked them to win the Cup (Ezzy picked NJ) and I have Hossa to win MVP. Of the IC readers, Cole also had Detroit with Datsyuk winning MVP honors and Pattywins picked Pittsburgh to both make the Cup Finals and win. He also appeared to favor Malkin but felt that Crosby would be picked to win the Conn Smythe. It appears that Bob Roberts also favored Pittsburgh although he didn’t formally make his selections and stopped short in the Pittsburgh/Carolina series but based on the tenor of his comments it would appear he was leaning towards Pittsburgh.
I think my sentiments as to who will win the series and the Stanley Cup are best summed up by Adam Sandler from Billy Madison;
Winner: Detroit in 7.
As always feel free to share your thoughts with us on who you expect to prevail in the battle between Pittsburgh and Detroit for the Stanley Cup.