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?
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:
|Record||12 - 5||2nd||12 - 4||1st|
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.
|2008 - Marc-Andre Fleury||62||3641||35||18||7||5||162||2.67||1850||1688||.912||4|
|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.
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
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:
|2003-04||Brad Richards||Tampa Bay||23||12||14||26|
|Scott Niedermayer||New Jersey||24||2||16||18|
|1993-94||Brian Leetch||NY Rangers||23||11||23||34|
|1992-93||Wayne Gretzky||Los Angeles||24||15||25||40|
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.