Stanley Cup Finals Preview
Well here we are yet again, the Stanley Cup finals. This year is a rematch between the Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins, which should make little Gary Bettman sleep just a little more soundly. But regardless let’s get down to my predictions, but first lets break down the series.
Offense: And the first segment is probably the toughest. Which side do you take? The Penguins have one of the most dangerous offenses in the league, especially with Malkin and Crosby at the helm. But they also have other scorers like Petr Sykora, Chris Kunitz, Bill Guerin, Sergei Gonchar and Miroslav Satan. Crosby and Malkin are obviously great scorers and set-up guys and Guerin has been nothing short of brilliant playing with Crosby. They are a very dangerous team five on five and would be a shoe-in for the advantage in a series when it comes to offense right?
Well yes unless they are facing the Detroit Red Wings. Aside from Pavel Datsyuk, and Marian Hossa they have other scorers like Thomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen, Brian Rafalski, Henrik Zetterberg and Nik Lidstrom. The Red Wings are chock full of players who can put the puck in the net, and they too are dangerous five on five. This one was tough but it’s hard to go against Detroit. Detroit clearly has some of the best finishers in the league, even more so than Pittsburgh.
Defense: This section gets a little tricky. For starters then Penguins have a very good core of defenders including the big bruisers Hal Gill and Brooks Orpik (whom both have considerable playoff experience). They also have Maxime Talbot, Mark Eaton and Chris Letang as steady two way defenseman. And of course in the offensive category they have Sergei Gonchar and Philippe Boucher. What does this make? A very solid and steady two way group of defenseman. Gonchar has one of the best shots from the point and don’t forget about Boucher back there on the blue line, when he plays (He did have 51 points a few years back).
The Red Wings have the ever reliable Nik Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski to not only lead their offense but take care of their own zone as well. Niklas Kronwall, Andreas Lilja, Chris Chelios, Jonathan Ericsson, Brett Lebda are the other names patrolling the blue line for Detroit. At first glance you have to give the advantage to the Wings but with the injuries they have right now, including Lidstrom being banged up, and the Penguins having a younger D corps I have to give the advantage to the Penguins.
Goaltending: We come to the biggest section of them all, the goaltenders. In net for the Penguins is Marc-Andre Fleury, the 24 year old net-minder who has had a solid post season. Last year, in the Penguins Stanley Cup finals run, Fleury was the main reason why they made it as far as they did; standing on his head in nearly every game. This playoffs is different, not because he isn’t playing well but because his team is playing better around him. Thus far he has shut down the high powered Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes; getting through all three series with a 2.65 GAA and .912 save percentage. Fleury is also quite playoff savvy because of last year’s playoff run; especially since his best games came in the finals.
For Detroit it’s business as usual with the 36 year old Chris Osgood, who has been sensational in the playoffs. In his 16 playoff games Osgood is sporting a 2.06 GAA and a .925 save percentage. This is quite impressive considering he completely shut down the Columbus Blue Jackets, Anaheim Ducks and the very high scoring Chicago Blackhawks. Osgood only surrendered 10 goals in his 5 games against Chicago in the Western conference finals, he also sported a .930 save percentage. Osgood just seems to be getting better as the season goes on, which is good for Detroit fans. To me this is also a really close call but it’s hard to go against Chris Osgood in this year’s playoffs.
Power Play: Pittsburgh is a dangerous power play team. With the combination of Crosby and Malkin up front and Gonchar on the point it almost doesn’t matter who the other two players are. But this year that was not the case. Pittsburgh only sported a 17.2% on the power play, good for 20th overall in the league. Thus far in the post season they are rocking a 19.3%, which is a nice little improvement.
As for Detroit they finished the year 1st overall with 25.5%. Hossa, Datsyuk, Lidstrom, Rafalski and Zetterberg are just a few names that give opponents goalies nightmares when they sleep. Thus far in the playoffs Detroit has stayed pat converting on 25.7% of their power plays. Oh also there was a period of time this year when Detroit was converting power plays at 33.3%, enough said.
Penalty Kill: When you think of Pittsburgh you usually don’t think defense but this year they were very solid, especially on the penalty kill. The Penguins killed off 82.7% of their penalties, good for 8th overall in the league. Hal Gill and Brooks Orpik are mainstays in the defensive core of players that Pittsburgh kills penalties with and they are always a threat to score shorthanded. In the playoffs the Penguins have improved that number sporting an 83.6% success rate.
The penalty kill has been a problem for the Wings since day one. Detroit only killed off 78.3% of their penalties, which ranked them 25th in the league. So far in the playoffs Detroit has been even worse only killing off 73.7%. This one's not even close.
Fatigue/Health: Lets be completely honest here, Pittsburgh has completely avoided the injury bug and has cruised through most of their opponents. Pittsburgh has no major injuries to talk about and is definitely coming into this finals relatively fresh.
Detroit, on the other hand, cannot boast anything of the sort. With two of their top 6 players banged up, Lindstrom and Datsyuk, they definitely could have used the rest; and they didn’t get it. This one goes to the Penguins, they are much younger and much better off to win a final series.
Coaching: Dan Bylsma replaced Therrien as the coach of the Penguins in the latter half of the season. Bylsma couldn’t have been much more successful going 18-3-4 in his first 25 games.
Mike Babcock, coach of the Red Wings, is sporting a .707 winning percentage since he took over in 2005. Since Babcock has been this deep in the playoffs before and Bylsma has not this is an easy one.
Official Prediction: To me the Wings are too playoff savvy to let this one pass by. The Penguins have a lot of pressure on them to win, especially since they lost last year. I expect this to be a great, very evenly played out, series; but in the end I have to lean towards Detroit. They have been here before, they have won before, and I think they are going to do it again.
Detroit in 7.