Friday, May 23, 2008

Stanley Cup Finals: Pittsburgh Penguins vs Detroit Red Wings

And then there were two. From the Eastern Conference the Pittsburgh Penguins and from the Western Conference the Detroit Red Wings. Both teams have been dominant through the playoffs, the Pens with a record of 12-2 and the Wings 12-4. Both have gotten where they are with a strong balance of scoring, defense and goaltending. But which, if either, really hold an edge?

We all know about the Penguins skill up front with the likes of Crosby, Malkin and Hossa. The Wings aren’t exactly lacking with Zetterberg who is making a strong case for winning the Conn Smythe trophy for playoff MVP and Datsyuk. The Pens have a greater balance of scoring and defensive styles, and have been getting scoring from the lower lines a key to their success. Detroit has more grit though with the likes of Holmstrom who can crash the net like no other, and isn’t without its own two way players like Draper. Both own the top end talent and defensive minded grinders you need in the forward lines. But because of their better scoring depth I am giving the edge to the Pens, and it is a very slight edge.

Advantage: Pens

The Pens defense on paper looks mediocre, something the team would have been glad to accomplish in the last decade. The likes of Gill, Orpik and Letang aren’t the best or most flashy, Gonchar being the only big name back there, but they’ve gotten the job done and have shut down three teams and giving up the least goals per game in the playoffs. The Wings field an impressive lineup though starting with uber defenseman Lidstrom. He is supported by defensemen like Rafalski (remember him Devo?), Kronwall, Stuart and super douche Chelios. Nearly all have strong play in their own end and they can move the puck good too. They are also one of the faster defensive corps in the league, quite a bit faster than the Pens defense.

Advantage: Red Wings

You have one goalie in his second post season ever and another who already won a cup. So which would you say is better? Off hand Osgood for the Wings for his experience and goals per game average, and though he hasn’t played bad the reality of his situation is this: the team in front of him is so good he doesn’t need to be anything but average. Detroit has given up the fewest shots on goal of any team in the post season and Osgood hasn’t had to be brilliant much at all. He’s also aging and at 35 doesn’t have the same skills that won him the cup with Detroit years ago. Fleury though continues to shows flashes of brilliance, being quicker and more limber than probably any NHL goalie period. Considered a head case most of his young career as he was easily frustrated, he hasn’t shown any signs of that and remains confident in his play and the team in front of him.

Advantage: Penguins

Mike Babcock has always been a solid coach, a reason Detroit took him from the Ducks when his contract expired. He is a good motivator and knows the X’s and O’s of hockey, and most of all he knows how to use the talent he is given. For the Pens there is Michel Therrien who though much maligned has begun to show he is more than someone who can go on a good tirade. He’s gotten the team committed to playing a defensive game when needed, but one that also allows them to open it up and score if needed. The team is close, on the same page and not showing a hint of nervousness. However, if the plan fails the only adjustment Therrien knows how to do is switch the lines, something Babcock is not limited by.

Advantage: Red Wings

“Age and experience will always defeat youth and skill” they say. Well experience hasn’t been much advantage against the Pens who have ousted three teams with a lot more than experience than they have. Of course though the Red Wings aren’t exactly lacking in that skill department. Though many would probably disagree, I am still under the assumption the Pens will lay an egg, but at the very least feel they will be outplayed by a team that is their better.

Prediction: Red Wings in 5

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