Stanley Cup Finals
The Stanley Cup Finals start on Saturday night at 8pm on Versus pitting the youthful Pittsburgh Penguins against the experienced Detroit Red Wings.
How big a difference is there in age and experience? Well the average age of Pittsburgh players in this season’s playoffs is 27.9, while Detroit’s average age is 32.3. The Red Wings have 10 players who have captured the Cup a total of 23 times, while Pittsburgh has just three winners and a total of four rings. Obviously Detroit has a huge advantage when it comes to playing in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Let’s take a look at the comparison of the two teams by position:
Detroit is led by Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk who are absolute magicians on the ice and the key to the Wings scoring up front. In addition, they have Tomas Holmstrom who makes a living in front of the opposing team’s net minder. The big story of the playoffs and a big reason why Detroit breezed through the Colorado series is Johan Franzen (12 goals), who will miss game one due to concussion like symptoms, but will likely return in game two. The man nicknamed “mule” gives Detroit that alternate scoring punch they desperately need so that opposing teams can’t totally focus on Zetterberg and Datsyuk. After those four players the Wings rely on Jiri Hudler (13 points in playoffs), Mikael Samuelsson (9 points), and Valtteri Filppula (7 points) to chip in with scoring. Detroit’s other big strength at forward are their grinders and checkers. Wings Coach Mike Babcock is fortunate to have Kris Draper, Dallas Drake, Daniel Cleary, and Kirk Maltby who he can put on the ice to try and slow the opponent’s top two lines.
Pittsburgh has the pride of Canada, Sydney Crosby, and the second best player from the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Evgeni Malkin (the Great #8 is the best from that draft) as their top two centers. Add in their third line center, Jordan Staal, and you won’t find a team in the NHL that is as loaded at the center ice position. The Penguins have two great scoring lines with Pascal Dupuis-Crosby-Marian Hossa and then Petr Sykora-Malkin-Ryan Malone. Having two very good scoring lines will make the match-ups difficult for the Red Wings. Staal will likely be flanked by Maxime Talbot and the very pesky Jarkko Ruutu giving Coach Michel Therien a really good checking line to use against Datsyuk and Zetterberg, when he can get that match-up (home team has the last change in hockey).
Forwards Analysis: Slight edge to Pittsburgh
Detroit has the best defenseman on the planet in Nicklas Lidstrom who will likely win his 6th Norris Trophy this June. Lidstrom is paired with former New Jersey Devils defenseman Brian Rafalski and the two of them log 25 or more minutes a game each. The Wings offense is heavily keyed by the outstanding ability of Lidstrom and Rafalski to move the puck from the defensive zone to the offensive zone. Lidstrom is also very difficult to hit because of his positioning, skating, and ability to move the puck quickly. The second defensive pair of Nicklas Kronvall and Brad Stuart isn’t too shabby either logging in the 20 to 22 minutes a game range. Both Kronvall and Stuart are physical with Kronvall’s hitting ability really shining in this year’s postseason. The fifth and sixth defenseman roles are filled by Brett Lebda, the ageless Chris Chelios (46 years old), and Andreas Lilja.
Pittsburgh’s defense is led by former Capital Sergei Gonchar who is very mobile and has a great shot but can be a liability in his own zone at times. Gonchar will play around 25 minutes a game and then the other five defensemen pretty much equally share the remaining ice time. Hal Gill, who was acquired at the trade deadline, has added a big physical presence to the Penguin defense and was very effective in the Rangers series against Jaromir Jagr but it remains to be seen if he can keep up with the speedier Wings forwards. Ryan Whitney, Brooks Orpik, Rob Scuderi, and Kris Letang are the other four defensemen.
Defensemen Analysis: Big edge to Detroit
Since Babcock replaced Dominik Hasek with Chris Osgood the Red Wings have gone 10-2 in the playoffs with Osgood posting a .931 save percentage. Osgood has won a Stanley Cup as a starter (1998) and is very experienced and confident. He is very calm in net and his team feeds off of him. I think he is one of the most underrated goalies in the league.
The Penguins goaltending has improved tremendously this year and Marc Andre-Fleury is 12-2 with a .938 save percentage in the playoffs. Fleury has really improved his ability to play the puck and it allows his weaker defense to have more time to find a pass rather than worry about being crushed into the back glass by opposing forwards. The switch to white pads has helped him as well.
Goalie Analysis: Edge to Detroit because of Osgood’s experience.
Detroit won the President’s Trophy for the best record in the regular season so they get home ice. I think this will be a very close and very exciting series. The Red Wings are the best team in the NHL at possessing the puck. They win lots of face-offs (they lead the league in the playoffs at 55.7% while Pittsburgh only wins 46.7% of their face-offs) and they are such a good passing and skating team that it is hard for a team to get a fore-check going against them. However, if there is any other team in the NHL that has a roster with the skill and ability to possess the puck anywhere near the level of Detroit then it is the Pittsburgh Penguins. If you are a Penguins fan though, you should be concerned because the face-off percentages clearly favor the Wings and once Detroit has the puck it is difficult to get it away from them.
Game 2 is Monday night at 8pm on Versus and then Games 3-7 will be on NBC. All games are in high definition.
Series Prediction: Detroit in seven games because of their experience and superiority in the face-offs department. I also think Babcock is a better coach than Therien. However, if Pittsburgh can turn the face-off stat around then they have a much better chance of winning the Cup.
The Washington Capitals have signed defenseman Karl Alzner to a three-year entry-level contract, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced Thursday. Alzner was the Capitals’ first-round choice, fifth overall, in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
Alzner, who will turn 20 on Sept. 24, recently completed his fourth season with the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League (WHL) and was named the WHL Player of the Year and Defenseman of the Year in 2007-08. He is a finalist for the Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year. The captain of the Hitmen, Alzner recorded 36 points (seven goals, 29 assists), a +26 rating and just 15 penalty minutes in 60 games in the regular season. A two-time gold medalist at the IIHF World Junior Championship with Canada, Alzner captained the Canadian team in 2007-08 and was named one of the team’s top three players by the coaching staff. He is a defensive defenseman that will really help solidify Washington’s back line for years to come. George McPhee should send a big thank you note to the Los Angeles Kings for passing on him at last year’s entry draft (Los Angeles chose defenseman Thomas Hickey) which allowed the Caps to get the best defensemen in that draft.
A couple of NHL coaching decisions were announced on Thursday. First, the Colorado Avalanche once again promoted Tony Granato from assistant to head coach (Granato previously served as the team’s head coach from 2002-2004 and compiled a 72-33-17-11 record). Also, new Vancouver GM Mike Gillis announced that he is keeping head coach Alain Vigneault and has extended his contract through the 2009-10 season. While the move made in Colorado to hire Granato seems like a safe one (although I don’t think they should have gotten rid of Joel Quennville), I think Gillis made a mistake keeping Vigneault. I’m not sure how much longer the Vancouver fans will put up with Vigneault’s boring, defensive system.