Saturday’s meeting between the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins will be a clash of the best that both conferences have to offer. Both teams have had a relatively easy time of it thus far, with Pittsburgh compiling a 12-2 record through the Conference finals. Detroit slowed a bit in their Conference Final matchup with Dallas, losing Games 4 and 5 mostly due to the impressive play of Marty Turco in net. Both Pittsburgh and Detroit will need to be fully prepared for a long series, because neither of these teams has played an opponent that presents as great a challenge as they do to each other. Both teams had excellent regular season, and Pittsburgh probably would have made a serious run at the President’s Cup had they not been hampered by the loss of Fleury and Crsoby midway through the season. Both teams are loaded with talent at both ends of the ice and run very deep on the bench, so let`s take a look at each aspect of both teams.
Offense: The uncertainty regarding leading goalscorer Johan Franzen’s return to the lineup definitely has an effort on the Wings offense. However, the Wings have been one of the most potent offensive machines in the NHL for years. Franzen has certainly turned it up in the playoffs and the end of the regular season, but Datsyuk and Zetterberg are still in the top 5 playoff point-scorers, and there are plenty of other scorers on the Detroit bench. However, the most talented offensive players in this series reside on Pittsburgh’s roster. Crosby and Malkin are clearly the best one-two punch in the NHL today and the addition of Marian Hossa gives the Pens tremendous scoring ability. The depth on Pittsburgh’s bench is also surprising. Jordan Staal, Maxime Talbot, Pascal Dupuis, Petr Sykora and Ryan Malone have all been major contributors thus far. The Pens also get significant contribution from their D- Serge Gonchar and Kris Letang are both offensive-minded defensemen who can quarterback a powerplay and make things happen in the offensive zone.
Defense: This one is a difficult call, since Pittsburgh’s defense has played at a level well above where anyone predicted they would. Hal Gill has proven to be a valuable asset in shutting down opponents` top lines and maintaining a presence in front of the net. Orpik and Whitney are both physical presences, while Gonchar seems to just get better with age. Detroit, however, is more than stacked on the blueline, though their offensive firepower usually overshadows their defensive strength. Chelios and Lidstrom are locks for the Hall of Fame and don’t seem to have lost a step. Kronwall has developed into one of the hardest open-ice hitters in the game today, and the deadline addition of Brad Stuart has proved to be a perfect fit.
Advantage: Red Wings
Goaltending: Both Marc-Andre Fleury and Chris Osgood have played phenomenally this postseason. Osgood has been great since replacing the struggling Dominik Hasek in Round 1, but he has yet to face an array of shooters anything close to what Pittsburgh has to offer. After getting blasted in last year’s opening round, Fleury has been more than equal to whatever task has been laid before him. He stonewalled the best offensive players in the East not named Crosby and Malkin (Heatley, Spezza, Alfredsson, Jagr, Briere) and made it look easy. Barring an injury to their young starter, the Pens have to be fairly confident with their situation between the pipes.
Special Teams: Both teams have tremendous powerplays which are deadly when given the opportunity to score. This postseason, Pittsburgh had the best powerplay in the East, and second best in the league with a 25% conversion rate. Detroit was close behind with a 21.3% success rate. Message to both teams: don`t take penalties if you want to take home the Cup. Throughout the playoffs, these two teams have identical penalty kill statistics, although Detroit does have more short-handed goals. While special teams are about even between the two, they will undoubtedly have a drastic effect on the outcome of the series
Both of these teams have tremendous ability and should be happy with how far they have come. Unfortunately, neither one will walk away from this series content unless Lord Stanley’s Cup is riding shotgun in the limo on the way home. While Detroit clearly has far more experience on their roster, the youth of the Penguins has not had an effect thus far. If Michel Therien can keep his players focused and loose, Pittsburgh may have what it takes to bring home their first Stanley Cup in 16 years. Penguins in 7