Penguins vs. Red Wings, Stanley Cup Finals preview

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The Blogs

Pensburgh vs. Winging It In Motown

The Storyline

The first Stanley Cup Finals rematch since 1984 gives the Pittsburgh Penguins a shot at avenging their loss last year to Detroit. Can the Pens triumph with another year of experience under their belt, or will the Big Red Machine hoist another banner to the rafters of Joe Louis Arena?

The Numbers

  Pittsburgh Detroit
  Record 45-28-9 8th 51-21-10 3rd
  Pts % .604 8th 0.683 3rd
  Goals For/Game 3.15 6th 3.52 1st
  Goals Against/Game 2.84 17th 2.93 19th
  5-on-5 GF/GA 1.18 5th 1.20 4th
  PP% 17.2 19th 25.5 1st
  PK% 82.7 8th 78.3 25th
  Shots/Game 29.0 18th 36.2 1st
  Shots Against/Game 30.3 17th 27.7 2nd
  FO % 49.1 18th 55.1 1st

While this looks like a case for domination by Detroit, the caveat as always is that these regular season totals don't fully reflect the transformation that Pittsburgh made once Dan Bylsma took over as head coach. So let's take a look at a similar table, reflecting performance in the playoffs so far:

  Pittsburgh Detroit
 Record 12 - 5 2nd 12 - 4 1st
 Goals For/Game 3.82 1st 3.69 2nd
 Goals Against/Game 2.76 8th 2.12 2nd
 5-on-5 GF/GA 1.24 3rd 1.84 1st
 PP% 19.3 7th 25.7 3rd
 PK% 83.6 5th 73.7 14th
 Shots/Game 34.9 3rd 39.5 1st
 Shots Against/Game 28.9 3rd 28.8 2nd
 FO % 50 8th 52.8 2nd

Obviously, since both teams have made it this far, their numbers reflect results, but outside of the penalty killing (which has been consistently bad), the Red Wings have dominated the playoffs much as they have the regular season, and have locked things down defensively. The Penguins, on the other hand, have stepped up their offensive game; Shots and Goals per Game are both up dramatically.

Goaltending

Pittsburgh


GP MIN W L T EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2008 - Marc-Andre Fleury 62 3641 35 18 7 5 162 2.67 1850 1688 .912 4

Detroit


GP MIN W L T EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2008 - Ty Conklin 40 2246 25 11 2 4 94 2.51 1033 939 .909 6
2008 - Chris Osgood 46 2663 26 9 8 0 137 3.09 1208 1071 .887 2

For a good breakdown of the goaltending matchup, check out Mitch Korn's analysis that I linked to earlier today. At this point, you'd have to say Osgood is the hotter goaltender coming into this series.

Penalties

No OtF preview would be complete without a look at Penalty Plus/Minus, to see which players will head to, or send other players to, the box:

 Pittsburgh Penalties Drawn  Detroit Penalties Drawn
 Player  Draws  Fouls  Pen +/-   Player Draws Fouls Pen +/-
 Evgeni Malkin 62 39 +23  Henrik Zetterberg 38 18 +20
 Sidney Crosby 43 29 +14  Pavel Datsyuk 30 10 +20
 Matt Cooke 30 35 -5  Marian Hossa 30 25 +5
 Eric Godard 29 39 -10  Valtteri Filppula 29 20 +9
 Jordan Staal 28 17 +11  Mikael Samuelsson 26 25 +1
 Chris Kunitz 27 27 0  Kirk Maltby 23 14 +9
  Penalties Taken   Penalties Taken
 Evgeni Malkin 62 39 +23  Niklas Kronwall 10 26 -16
 Eric Godard 29 39 -10  Marian Hossa 30 25 +5
 Matt Cooke 30 35 -5  Mikael Samuelsson 26 25 +1
 Brooks Orpik 25 34 -9  Dan Cleary 22 23 -1
 Bill Guerin 22 30 -8  Tomas Kopecky 21 23 -2
 Sidney Crosby 43 29 +14  Brett Lebda 5 23 -18

Again, those numbers are for the regular season. As for the playoffs, here's the updated table of complete Penalty Plus/Minus for the playoffs. For Pittsburgh, Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal lead with +7 ratings, while Detroit has a quartet of forwards tied with +5.


Data through the Conference Finals
Click here to go to the Google Doc

The Prediction

In what is perhaps the most grueling postseason in professional sports, this Stanley Cup Final will prove to be especially tough, given the back-to-back games that will open the series in Detroit this weekend. They very latest reports seem to indicate that Nick Lidstrom will play in Game One, but that Pavel Datsyuk is still a game-day decision for the Red Wings. Jonathan Ericsson will also play, after having an appendectomy on Wednesday (seriously, how cool is that?).

Can Detroit's depth overcome these injuries, or will the growth of the Penguins as a team carry Pittsburgh to the first championship in the post-Mario Lemieux era? With 28 points apiece, Crosby and Malkin have already scored more than anyone has in the playoffs since 2006, and they each have a chance to post one of the best such runs in the last 20 years. The following is the list of playoff scoring leaders going back to the 1989 Stanley Cup won by Calgary:

 Season  Player  Team GP G A Pts
 2007-08  Henrik Zetterberg  Detroit 22 13 14 27
   Sidney Crosby  Pittsburgh 20 6 21 27
 2006-07  Daniel Alfredsson  Ottawa 20 14 8 22
   Dany Heatley  Ottawa 20 7 15 22
   Jason Spezza  Ottawa 20 7 15 22
 2005-06  Eric Staal  Carolina 25 9 19 28
 2004-05  …  …    
 2003-04  Brad Richards  Tampa Bay 23 12 14 26
 2002-03  Jamie Langenbrunner  N.J. 24 11 7 18
   Scott Niedermayer  New Jersey 24 2 16 18
 2001-02  Peter Forsberg  Colorado 20 9 18 27
 2000-01  Joe Sakic  Colorado 21 13 13 26
 1999-00  Brett Hull  Dallas 23 11 13 24
 1998-99  Peter Forsberg  Colorado 19 8 16 24
 1997-98  Steve Yzerman  Detroit 22 6 18 24
 1996-97  Eric Lindros  Philadelphia 19 12 14 26
 1995-96  Joe Sakic  Colorado 22 18 16 34
 1994-95  Sergei Fedorov  Detroit 17 7 17 24
 1993-94  Brian Leetch  NY Rangers 23 11 23 34
 1992-93  Wayne Gretzky  Los Angeles 24 15 25 40
 1991-92  Mario Lemieux  Pittsburgh 15 16 18 34
 1990-91  Mario Lemieux  Pittsburgh 23 16 28 44
 1989-90  Craig Simpson  Edmonton 22 16 15 31
   Mark Messier  Edmonton 22 9 22 31
 1988-89  Al MacInnis  Calgary 22 7 24 31

That's not bad when you have a chance to put yourself in the same scoring category as Gretzky and Lemieux, but that's how good Pittsburgh's dynamic duo has been this spring. Having one such superstar is fortunate for a franchise, but to have two of them, on separate lines wreaking havoc, is outrageous.

The question, then, ultimately comes down to Detroit's ability to contain those two scoring lines for Pittsburgh, and carry the day through superior depth. The contributions of players like Darren Helm and Dan Cleary have been critical to their playoff run.

It's that depth and experience which has me leaning towards the Detroit Red Wings repeating as Stanley Cup Champions in a hard-fought, competitive series. Particularly if Datsyuk can come back and perform quickly, I see this as a 3-line team vs. a 2-line team, and Detroit has the defensive skill and discipline to hold the Penguins down, just barely enough, to earn the win.

NHL Playoffs Blog Coverage, Schedule and Scores - SB Nation

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