Saturday, May 30, 2009

#123: Quick '09 Cup Final Thoughts

---Hockeytown VS. Steeltown II---

Last year, I really didn't give the Pens much of a chance.

Had it not been for Maxime Talbot, my "Wings in 5" prediction would have been correct on both counts. At least with the extra contest, Penguin fans in attendance for Game 6 got to see the Stanley Cup skated around for the first time on Mellon Arena ice (Pens won their two Cup-clinchers on the road).

Too bad the folks hoisting it wore red.

Now, the highly-anticipated rematch (at least for us Pens fans).

I don't think I need to tell any rational hockey fan that, this time, the Penguins have a solid chance to life the Chalice.

I'll make a quick mention that "Steeltown Sports" went 11-3 this postseason picking series based almost solely on Shots on Goal Differential, using the "post-trade deadline" number as the chief indicator.

People who think they know what they're talking about that Detroit got the tougher road to the Final because Carolina used all they had against New Jersey and Boston. They had nothing left for Pittsburgh.

If you've been reading here, you know that New Jersey was the pick to win over Carolina, but the statistics were close enough that the end result couldn't be a surprise. Carolina was practically declared the winner against Boston in round two right here. It just took longer than expected.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, was only expected to struggle against the Capitals. And it took a momentous comeback from a 2-0 hole to finish of Washington in seven.

Detroit is right where they're supposed to be.

Now, to this series' SOGD:

Detroit +8.4 (+9.0)
Pittsburgh -1.3 (+6.5)

We've determined that the post-trade deadline statistics (in parentheses) is a little stronger of an indicator. If you've watched the Penguins' march through the playoffs, you know that their positive SOGD after the deadline is the real thing.

They outshot the Capitals (who had a better SOGD in both timeframes) in every contest. Only the work of goalie Simeon Varlamov kept the Capitals in the hunt.

That's what makes this series harder to read.

Remember, this forechecking, puck-possesion style that head coach Dan Bylsma brought to the team is still relatively new. The Red Wings have been doing it for a while.

Perish the thought: the Pens might actually be better than +6.5, but there just hasn't been enough of a sample size to know for sure.

Still, if the Penguins don't take advantage of Detroit's injured state early, and steal at least one of the first two games at Joe Louis Arena this weekend, it's going to be tough to beat this team.

Unlike Washington, Detroit doesn't need to rely on one, or even two players to keep them on the attack.

Another thing to consider: Much of Detroit's firepower over the years have come from face-off wins.

This post season, Detroit has gone 9-6-1 on face-offs.

The Penguins: 8-7-2

Very close.

Just like this series will be. Too close to call.

In which case, one falls back on SOGD.

Wings in 7.


Other notes:

- Detroit fans are already breaking out their list of excuses if they lose. It's being compiled under the, "Well, we're the better team, so if we lose, it has to be something.

I'm betting we'll have: "We weren't healthy;" "The Penguins had a much easier road to the Final;" and my personal favorite Statement of the Clueless: "NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made sure Detroit got called for a lot of bad penalties so that his Chosen One (Crosby) got to hoist the Cup."

- It's the Stanley Cup Final. No "s" at the end. Though for the life of me, I can't find a definitive source to back me up. Just my awesome t-shirt from Walmart.

- I must be the only person in the Pittsburgh fan base would couldn't care less about Marian Hossa going to Detroit. The Penguins did well last year, but it was about the players.

Their success since February this season has been about a system, not unlike the Big Red Machine.

You don't necessarily need an Evgeni Malkin or a Sidney Crosby - or a Marian Hossa - to take over and win you a couple games. You need to make sure your players are in the right place at the right time.

- I'm very curious to see the shots on goal differential between these two teams. The last time they met, it was February 8. About a week before Michel Therrien was given the axe. But even in the two games, Detroit outshot Pittsburgh by a total of four shots. Now with the Penguins feeling inclined to shoot the puck more frequently, and with Nicklas Lidstrom less than 100%, the Penguins could surprise in that department.

- Both teams are very deep. Stop with the "Detroit is much deeper" talk. It's not a great advantage. Then again, neither is Pittsburgh's power play against Detroit's penalty kill.

- Maybe I should say "Pens in Seven." It's that close. Really. Maybe "Seven" is my prediction. I'll just sit back and enjoy what's going to be a classic series.


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