In a repeat of last year’s Stanley Cup Final, the defending champions Detroit Red Wings will have to once again defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins if they want to win back to back championships. In last year’s final this series only went six games, but from the start you got the feeling the young Penguins were just not ready for the spotlight, even given the fact that they still pushed the Red Wings to six games.
So I am going to try to give you the best break down possible and what to watch for as the Penguins and the Red Wings go at it once more. We will start with the defending champions and at the end I will make my pick for the winner of the series.
Detroit has rolled through the playoffs with the only bump in the road really coming from second round match up Anaheim who pushed the Red Wings to seven games. This is an older team and it has started to show with injures to several key players.
Most notability Nicklas Lidstrom the great defenseman for Detroit who has a lower body injury and missed most of the last series. He is supposed to be able to go in game one but if he is not effective this could be a long series for Red Wings. The Penguins are a great goal scoring team and Lidstrom’s defense could be as series changer.
If Lidstrom is unable to go do not think the defense will be bare for Detroit. They still have several good defenders, but 47 year old Chris Chelios will have to play more. The main staples on the defense are Niklas Kronwall, Brian Rafalski and Brad Stuart. They check hard and do not let their goaltender Chris Osgood to be screened often. They are good offensively as well.
As for the offense once again it just might depend on an injured Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk who has a foot injury. Datsyuk is one of the NHL’s best scores and Detroit would love to have him back healthy. Without Datsyuk the Red Wings still can get a lot of scoring.
Lead by Darren Helm, Kris Draper, and Henrik Zetterberg the Red Wings can replace Datsyuk at the center position. Besides their star players, Detroit also boasts great depth down their bench.
Helping with the scoring load will be Johan Franzen and Jiri Hudler at left wing and Daniel Cleary, Tomas Holmstrom, Mikael Samuelsson, and Marian Hossa at right wing.
The Red Wings are very good on the power play, scoring 26 percent of the time. Detroit has been the second best scoring team in the playoffs. They have scored 59 goals in their sixteen playoff games and average nearly four goals a game.
On offense Detroit likes to pound shots at the goal, averaging nearly forty shots on goal a game. If you cannot clear the puck out of your own zone the Red Wings will make you pay. They love to put pressure on the other team by taking control off of face-offs.
In goal for Detroit has been Chris Osgood who has played great in these playoffs. He is only allowing about two goals per game and has saved about 93 percent of the shots sent his way. Osgood will have to be good in goal because this Pittsburgh team can score a ton of goals quickly.
Now let’s look at the Pittsburgh Penguins. When you talk about the Penguins you have to look that their ability to score the puck. Pittsburgh has the best offense in the playoffs and has been great at scoring five on five goals. However, they do not score a lot on the power play.
They are led by their two young superstars, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Crosby has 14 goals and Malkin has 12 while both have a total of 28 points in the playoffs. If Lidstrom is back on defense look for the two to be split up while in Detroit so that the defense cannot focus on both of them at the same time.
If the game is close they will skate together to try to get a goal for the Penguins late in the game. Crosby has been better on face-offs and the Penguins have shown they can get quick goals if they can win them.
The two superstars are not the only goal scorers to watch out for in this series. Pittsburgh can get goals from a lot of players. At the center position Maxime Talbot and Jordan Staal can give the Penguins goals besides Crosby. To the left wings Matt Cooke, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Chris Kunitz are all threats to put the puck in to the net. At the right wings Bill Guerin and Miroslav Satan who has come alive as the playoffs have gone.
On defense the Penguins go as Sergei Gonchar goes. The defense man anchors the Pittsburgh defense and can score the puck as well. The Penguins are very good defensively and do not take many bad penalties. Gonchar will be helped on defense by Kris Letang, Mark Eaton, Brooks Orpik, and several other good defenders who can score the puck as well. Pittsburgh is great at killing penalties having killed 84 percent of the penalties so far in the playoffs.
Pittsburgh is a lot like Detroit in many ways. The one I notice the most is they both like to control the puck and pepper the opposing goalie with a lot of shots. The Penguins are very good at odd man rushes because they are willing to pass the puck to get easy goals.
The determining factor of Pittsburgh winning the Cup will be their goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury’s numbers may be a little lower than other goaltenders in the playoffs, but other goaltenders did not have to play against the Washington Capitals' goal scoring machine Alex Ovechkin.
Fleury is allowing nearly three goals a game and has not had a shut out yet in the playoffs. He does save 91 percent of the shots on goal he faces. He has given up 46 goals in the playoffs but he knows he does not have to be perfect with the goal scorers on his team.
Fleury just has to do enough to give the Penguins a chance to score goals and win the game. With Crosby and Malkin that should not be a problem. The defense in front of the net has gotten better with each round of the playoffs as well.
I know Detroit has won the cup many times before but something tells me this Pittsburgh team is ready. They have gotten better as the playoffs have gone on while Detroit has begun to show its age.
Evgeni Malkin is having a playoff coming out party and we already knew what Crosby could do. With Mario Lemieux who saved the franchise twice it would be great to see him hold up the cup as an owner for all that he has done for the city of Pittsburgh and for Penguins hockey.
I have to go with my gut and pick the Penguins. I do not think it will be easy and I think that this series will go a game longer than last year’s did.
So there is my pick Penguins to win the series in seven games.