#97: Red Wings in Five
Regular reader/commenter 'karri' always roots for me to be wrong about stuff.
Frankly, I do, too.
Earlier this hockey season, I said that I thought the Penguins were still a year away. At the outset, I thought the Pens were good for about a 2nd round playoff exit. The acquisitions of Marian Hossa, Pascal Dupuis, and Hal Gill made them legitimate contenders for the Cup, to the point where their negative Shots-on-Goal Differential for the season was offset.
Despite all this, the Penguins are in for a real "culture shock" of sorts when they open the Stanley Cup Final tomorrow night at Joe Louis Arena.
Going from the Flyers to the Red Wings is like a relatively new boxer to the professional circuit going a few bouts with, I don't know...me...then stepping into the ring with the current light heavyweight champion.
Game One is going to get ugly fast. Detroit scores goals early and en masse. Their puck control is unmatched, and the entire team can roll four lines as easily as any team ever has.
Detroit is a machine, and a well-oiled one at that.
Chris Osgood, the weak link of the team, has even been playing well through these playoffs.
It's just going to be a matter of how Pittsburgh responds after the inevitable Game One rout that will determine how long the series goes.
For the Penguins to prove me wrong over the course of a seven-game series against the only true juggernaut in the NHL, these four things will need to happen:
1) Pittsburgh must win face-offs. And lots of them. Detroit has won over 55% of their face-offs this post-season. Pittsburgh? Just 46.7% Only two teams were worse in that statistic: The Calgary Flames (46.4%), and, get this, the Dallas Stars (45.6%).
2) The Penguins must get sustained pressure on Osgood. Most of the Detroit games I watched featured the other team getting into Detroit's zone, blasting a one-timer from the point, Osgood making a save, and Detroit's defense clearing the rebound. This is why the Red Wings have one of the highest (if not the highest) SOGDs this decade.
3) Marc-Andre Fleury will have to stand on his head. Detroit will dictate the tempo, and they will have plenty of opportunities in the Pittsburgh zone. Fleury will see more shots on average per game - by far - than he saw in any of the three previous rounds. Detroit made an average of over 36 shots per game this postseason, versus just over 32 from Pittsburgh. Through three rounds, the Philadelphia Flyers shot just under 30 times per game, through two rounds, the New York Rangers shot slightly fewer than that, and the Ottawa Senators only 28 times per game. Are we convinced about the tendency of the Shots-on-Goal statistic over a seven-game series yet?
4) The Penguins must force the Red Wings to take penalties. This may be the toughest task, as the Wings had 25% fewer Penalty Minutes than Pittsburgh this postseason. Detroit is superb at 5-on-5 hockey. Pittsburgh must find a way to get them on the shorthanded end of the stick as often as possible.
All of these items are not likely to happen, and Detroit is not likely to slack off in any clinching game like they did in Games 4 and, especially 5 of the Dallas series.
Still, losing to a team as powerful as Detroit will serve as a passing of the torch, and the final step in the evolution of the Pittsburgh Penguins from cellar-dweller to Stanley Cup Champion in 2009.