5.27.2008

What's Wrong in Pittsburgh?

That seems to be the question that the entire league is asking.

Storming into the Stanley Cup Finals with a 12-2 record in the postseason, the Pittsburgh Penguins, led by superstars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Marc-Andre Fluery, looked to be the team to beat coming into the season.

Their opponent, the Detroit Red Wings, wasn't looking _as_ hot with a 12-4 record. They struggled in two games against Nashville before Chris Osgood saved the series, swept Colorado, but then nearly collapsed against Dallas after taking a 3-0 lead and blowing games 4 and 5. People knew this team was a force to be reckoned with, but they were expecting the reckoning from the Pens to be pretty smooth.

*So why is Detroit ahead 2-0???*

The answer is not that Sid the Kid and Geno are folding under the pressure of the playoffs. On the contraire, Crosby had several great chances against Osgood yesterday and Malkin only looks bad on the stats sheet.

The answer that should satisfy everybody comes in two parts. One, the Wings have a much, much stronger defense (compare Lidstrom, Rafalski, and Kronwall to Gonchar, Whitney, and Orpik) with which shutting down Sid and Geno is not a problem. The top four in Detroit did the same against Jason Arnott and Alex Radulov in Nashville, Joe Sakic and Paul Stastny in Colorado, and Brenden Morrow and Mike Ribeiro in Dallas. Along with that, Detroit's infamous 'Grind Line' of Kirk Maltby, Kris Draper, and Darren McCarty is well-renowned for shutting down the opponents' top scoring line.

The second half of the answer is that the Wings have much more experience than the Penguins. Consider this: On the Penguins roster, the only players to have played on Stanley Cup teams are checking winger Gary Roberts and depth defenseman Daryl Sydor, who has been pushed out of the lineup by younger, faster players. Backup goalie Ty Conklin was in the Cup Finals with Edmonton in 2006, but only played the end of game 1 and gave up a rather soft goal due to miscommunication with defender Jason Smith. Not exactly what the Penguins want.
On the other side, the Red Wings' roster features 10 players (Chelios, Datsyuk, Draper, Hasek, Holmstrom, Lidstrom, Maltby, McCarty, Osgood, and Rafalski) and all but Rafalski played together on the same Red Wings team that won the Cup in 2002. So, if you consider the best players on each team to be the ones who've been this far before, it's 3 against 10 in favor of the Wings. Not very good odds for the SuperPens.

Now, it looks very much now like the Wings will add another Cup to their resume. Some bloggers and papers out there have said that this is a pretty nice time to give up on the Penguins, and that maybe youth shouldn't be the face of the NHL just yet.

I claim just the opposite. Yes, experience can beat youth, and we might be seeing some more old teams capturing the Cup in the near future. But the league will attract more interest next year, and that will be because a group of young men with an average age of about 25 went all the way to the top and nearly captured a championship that a lot of 35-year-olds would love to have right now. Combine that with how fans of other sports love the winning ways of youthful players like Kobe Bryant, Eli Manning, and Jose Reyes, the NHL has a few players that deserve that status as well. Two-thirds of those players are currently on the Penguins (Crosby and Malkin, as opposed to Ovechkin).

And as a bonus, Detroit has Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall, Jiri Hudler, and Valterri Filpulla playing key roles. Each one is under 25 as well.

It'll be interesting to see how the Penguins perform against the Wings once they are in their home building. If they can pull out two wins, we'll have a very interesting series. The Pens would have to get at least one road win, however, in order to win the Cup, with Detroit owning home ice advantage.

That's all for now. Here's for a great game 3 (that I finally get to watch)!


STARS RULE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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