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December 7, 2016
Stanley Cup Finals Preview
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
I hate the Detroit Red Wings.
I think my intense feelings are a matter of public record. But as much as I hate those filthy Wings, I do respect them. Okay, well, "respect" is a bit strong. I do my best to tolerate their existence.
I'm also a proud native of Western Pennsylvania. Okay, well, "proud" might be a bit strong, but I do my best to tolerate my own existence. While I grew up a fan of the Quebec Nordiques, the Pittsburgh Penguins were my natural hometown team, and I learned hockey from the great Swah-Sawnt Seess. And with Badaboum's boys all but gone from the league, the Penguins are my current favorite team.
This will either be the greatest Stanley Cup Finals in the history of cool, or it will pretty much be my worst nightmare this side of prohibition. Kid Crosby, you're my only hope.
Key Matchup: Johan Franzen will be out for Game One, although he is expected to play at some point in the series. And Detroit needs him. At the moment, they've got one scoring line and a whole bunch of nothing. The top unit of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Tomas Holmstrom is golden, but the other three lines are uglier than homemade shoes. If the Penguins control Datsyuk and Zetterberg, they win. Detroit's secondary scoring is a rumor at best.
It's always difficult predicting what Michel Therrien will do in terms of strategy. He tends to only match lines by accident. Then again, he has employed actual "coaching" and "common sense" at times throughout the playoffs, so who knows?
Therrien will likely try and get Sergei Gonchar and Brooks Orpik out against Detroit's dynamic duo. Personally, I don't like that matchup. At some point, Gonchar will get stuck trying to move Holmstrom in front. Advantage Detroit.
Yet I'm not sure you want Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi out there against Zetterberg and Datsyuk's speed. Gill versus Holmstrom on the power play, though, will be must-see TV.
Therrien should do all he can to get Jordan Staal, Tyler Kennedy, and Jarkko Ruutu out against the top line. Ruutu will get in Zetterberg's kitchen. Finland vs. Sweden. Good times.
I expect Mike Babcock to dictate most matchups. It will be interesting to see if he splits up Zetterberg and Datsyuk to diversify the attack. But they're nowhere near as effective flying solo.
Assuming they're kept together, Datsyuk and Zetterberg will likely get matched against the Evgeni Malkin line. Kris Draper will probably see Crosby and Marian Hossa. The only problem is Babcock typically uses Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski with the Datsyuk line in a five-man unit. Lidstrom and Rafalski would be a much better match for Crosby. It would probably be better to employ Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart against Malkin, simply because they've got the size to battle Geno.
However you stack the lines and pairings, I think it favors Pittsburgh. The Penguins have two spectacular scoring lines. The Wings have one. Everyone makes a big deal about how hard Zetterberg and Datsyuk work in all three zones, but they won't outwork Crosby, Malkin, or Hossa.
Players to Watch: The filthy Wings have to get scoring from someone other than Datsyuk and Zetterberg. From a Detroit perspective, it would be nice if Cleary did something. He's got one goal and one assist in the postseason. Hey, he's Dan Cleary for a reason.
I really think Jordan Staal will be Pittsburgh's secret weapon. He was an absolute beast at the end of the Philly series. I've never seen him skate harder or faster. He'll be a matchup nightmare for the Wings. That's where you'll really notice Franzen's absence.
Prediction: When I first considered the series, I immediately thought it would be seven games. These two teams are practically twins. But while the filthy old Wings adore a minuet, the Ballet Russes, and crepe suzette, the Penguins like to rock and roll, a hot dog makes them lose control... what a wild duet.
Listen, the Penguins are younger, faster, bigger, stronger; you name it, they have the edge. And you can stuff your experience in a sack, mister. Experience is the song of the elderly.
Yeah, the Wings are better on faceoffs, and everyone knows they play an amazing puck possession game, but I got news for ya, Jackson. So do the Birds. In fact, they've been playing it better than the Wings.
Through the first three rounds, Detroit is averaging 8.1 giveaways per game. Pittsburgh is averaging 7.1 giveaways.
The Wings work harder than the Pens though, huh? They hound puck-carriers, creating 8.1 takeaways a game. Well, Pittsburgh averages 8.0, so that's a wash.
Detroit is so sound defensively, it's nearly impossible to get shots through to the net. The Wings are blocking 9.7 shots per contest. Pittsburgh's blocking 15.4 shots. Now what's up?
If you want to talk hits, Detroit averages 23.0, while Pittsburgh dishes out 31.9 a game.
And don't forget the Chris Osgood factor. He's so bad, he's terrible. The Penguins are going to light his sorry ass up. Marc-Andre Fleury is the truth.
Detroit's time is over. It's a new era in hockey. And it belongs to Kid Crosby. He was born to be a Stanley Cup champion. It's his destiny. It's his birthright. A revolution is coming. And it begins now.
Pittsburgh in five.