Stanley Cup Finals – Preview Part 2

Sidney Crosby has often been compared to the Great One or the Magnificant One, and may be too many articles have been written about him, so I won’t go further into talking about the all-time youngest captain of the NHL.

Looking at the Penguins steamrolling through the playoffs, sweeping the Senators in 4, knocking off the Rangers in 5, and eliminating state rivals Flyers in 5, one would’ve never imagined the ups and downs of their season. Plaqued with injuries during the regular season, the Pittsburgh showed all the right signs of overcoming adversity in the path for the ultimate glory this year.

The Penguins lost their captain for over 30 games this year due to a high-ankle injury. Veteren Gary Roberts, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, Maxime Talbot, Adam Hall and Mark Eaton all suffered prolonger injuries, severely depleting Pittsburgh’s line up. Around mid-november, the team were at a 7-10-1 run, with their future looking dark, the rest of the team managed to finish the season winning their first Atlantic Division title in 10 years.

When I see this, it makes me wonder about the excuses the Canucks give themselves for not making the play-off due to injuries. Because we all know that injuries are part of the game, and successful teams find ways to push on without their key players. Young players need to step up during desperate times, and we see this in the case of Evgeni Malkin. Ever since Sidney Crosby went down, Malkin has put the entire team on his shoulder, producing at key moments night-in and night-out, ensuring the Penguins a shot at the playoff. Another un-sung hero who has elevated his game during this season includes back-up goaltender Ty Conklin with his eight-game winning streak while posting the best save percentage just prior to the all-star break. Ryan Malone has another break-out year, and has finally established himself as top power-forward in the league, which eventually was rewarded by being named the team’s alternate captain.

Looking at the post-season efforts, it now seems like the Penguins are unstoppable. Easily rolling through all three lines, centered by young stars who each individually can easily be any other teams’ first-liner. Key acquisition before the trading deadline in the form of supersniper Marian Hossa provided the final piece of puzzle for the team. Combining the likes of Crosby, Malkin, Hossa, Malone and Staal to provide one of the highest firing-power in recent NHL history, the team also added a lot of depth on the blueline with the addition of Pascal Dupuis and Hal Gill.

The Red Wings’ success this years comes from building within, whereas the Penguins success can be attributed to the flawless acquisition via the trade route. And if the Red Wings symbolize home-grown veteren experiences, then the Penguins will symbolize fearless young talent. The average age of the Red Wings is 32.3 versus 27.9 of the Penguins, but if we look at their key players, the difference is more apparent:

Detroit Red WingsTop line-up average age: 33
Pavel Datsyuk (29)
Henrik Zetterberg (27)
Tomas Holmstrom (35)
Niklas Lidstrom (38)
Brian Rafalski (34)
Chris Osgood (35)

Pittsburgh Penguins – Top line-up average age: 24
Sidney Crosby (20)
Evgeni Malkin (21)
Marian Hossa (29)
Sergei Gonchar (34)
Kris Letang (21)
Marc-Andre Fleury (23)

There is almost 10 years difference between the key line-up in terms of age, and this may become a huge factor once the series goes into 6 and 7 games, especially if these games turn into triple or quadriple over time.

Before making my prediction on the final champion, let’s take a look at some stats:

Regular Season Record:
Detroit: 54 wins 115 Points
Pittsburgh:47 wins 102 Points

Playoff Scoring Leaders:
Henrik Zetterberg (11G 10A)
Pavel Datsyuk (9G 10A)
Johan Franzen (12G 3A)
Jiri Hudler (4G 9A)
Niklas Kronwall (0G 12A)

Sidney Crosby (4G 17A)
Marian Hossa (9G 10A)
Evgeni Malkin (9G 10A)
Ryan Malone (6G 9A)
Sergei Gonchar (1G 10A)

Looking at five key areas in their game, I will now compare the two teams in terms of

Offense – Pittsburgh Wins
The Penguins easily win in this category. As I explained above, Crosby and co. has way more natural scoring talent than the Red Wings. One only needs to look at their bang-bang play and you can see their offensive abilities. This of course is not to underestimate the dynamic duo of Datsyuk and Zetterberg, but in terms of the top three lines, Pittsburgh has a sligh edge in terms of talent. Furthermore, the uncertainty in the red-hot Johan Franzen’s return to the line-up adds support to my decision.

Defense – Detroit Wins
Unlike offense, defense is all about experience on top of their skills and talents, and Detroit has tons of it on their blueline. With multi-Norris Trophy winner and future hall-of-famer as their captain and anchoring their blue-line, Niklas Lidstrom is unquestionably the best defenseman in the league. Paired with two-time Stanley Cup winner Brian Rafalski, young and talented two-way d-man in Niklas Kornwall and Brad Stuart, I don’t think I really need to stress anymore.

Goaltending – Detroit Wins
Goaltending is another aspect of the game where experience means a lot. Although statistically, Fleury is coming off red-hot in the post-season, he didn’t have a good start to this season, and has suffered an extended injury, so although his confidence level is sky-high right now, a few wrong bounces here and there may cause mental breakdown for this young inexperience goaltender. On the other hand, Osgood has seen it all, being the starting goaltender for Detroit’s Cup in 1998, his experience will be the key factor for the Wings.

Special Teams – Pittsburgh Wins
Pittsburgh ranks second overall in powerplay for this playoff with 24.6% successful rate, while Detroit ranks at fifth with 21%. Both teams have an 87.3% penalty-killing rate. The playing-style of both teams offers talented forwards opportunities in powerplay situations, and I think that Pittsburgh has a better pool of talent in this area.

Mental Factor – Pittsburgh Wins
The last key area I’d like to address is both teams’ mental factor, specifically their hunger, their passion and their killer-instinct for cup. No one doubts that all three must be there for any team to be able to get this far, but in tight contest like this one, a minute edge in mindset can be a landslide. I think with Detroit’s dominance in the regular seasons for the past decades, and their 3 cups in the last 11 years, they may be just a little bit less hungry. On the other hand, Pittsburgh’s last cup was more that 16 years ago, and the franchise has been under so much adversity in the past decade, being nearly relocated to another city due to profit loss. The teams have been down at the bottom looking up for so many years, and with their franchise savior Crosby leading their attack, the team has a strong dominance in the mental factor.

To sum up, my prediction is that this will be the series which will only be decided until the very end. On paper, Pittsburgh’s young offense against Detroit’s experienced defense. On many levels, both teams are equal in their chances, except Pittsburgh might have a better mental edge. So I think:

Pittsburgh in 7 – Double OT game winner by Crosby

Wow! Wouldn’t that be something???

That’s all from here, I’m Saint Pako from the Hocket Digest.

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