NHL Blog: Armchair Power Play
05.30.2009 / 5:35 p.m. EDT
Game 2 has been set for 8 p.m. EDT Sunday night on NBC. But, before that...
Pavel Datsyuk is out for Game 1. Kris Draper is not going to play either. Nicklas Lidstrom and Jonathan Ericsson are in.
The Red Wings will again be shorthanded, but getting the two Swedish defensemen back in the lineup, particularly Lidstrom, is huge for this team. And, that is probably the biggest understatement of the day.
As for the Penguins, Sidney Crosby says they're not motivated by the fact that the team has another crack at the Penguins. The Cup, Crosby says, is enough motivation.
I'll buy the second part, but Crosby hasn't convinced me of the first. There's simply no way Pittsburgh isn't more amped up to beat Detroit than say Chicago or any other team. The Red Wings broke their hearts last year. Boy would the Pens love to flip the switch.
I know it's cliché to say the first 10 minutes of the game will be of the utmost importance. After all, aren't the second 10, or the third 10, fourth 10, fifth 10 or sixth 10 important, too? It's a silly statement, but that being said, I'm going to pay special attention to the Penguins in those first 10 minutes because it could be telling of their confidence.
Brooks Orpik says it's sometimes easier to open on the road because they don't have to play to the fans. Again, I'm not buying what Orpik is selling. You mean to tell me that Orpik would rather open at the Joe instead of Mellon Arena?
Yeah, didn't think so.
I'm not certain of it, but since the Penguins are going with 11 forwards again I bet Jordan Staal gets some ample time on the fourth line with Craig Adams and Miroslav Satan early in tonight's game. Dan Bylsma will want to manage the ice time of Crosby and Evgeni Malkin so they are fresh for the third period. Just a hunch, that's all.
How Marc-Andre Fleury handles the in-your-face play of Dan Cleary, Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen will go a long way in determining how much, if any, success the Penguins will have in this series. Fleury, like the rest of this team, has grown by leaps and bounds in the past couple of years and he must show poise in the eye of the Wings' storm.
The Wings want to get to the puck possession game early. Sounds obvious, I know, but if they do they could quickly put the Penguins on their heals and sap some of their confidence. A quick goal by Detroit should not be devastating to the Pens, but it will get them thinking. Vice versa, if the Penguins score first, it'll be business as usual for the Wings. That's what experience does for a team. It allows them to stay even keeled all the way.
Justin Abdelkader and Ville Leino, welcome to the show. With Datsyuk and Draper out, these two rookies are getting their first Stanley Cup Final action. Ericsson is, too, but he's become a regular in Detroit. Abdelkader and Leino are not, but they'll have the winged wheel on their chests tonight so they better come to play.
The NHL Network will go to NHL On the Fly Live at the Stanley Cup finals at 6 EDT for a two-hour preview of Game 1. I'll be watching.
Keep your computers on and charged. The Armchair Power Play is just getting started.
The morning of Game 1
05.30.2009 / 9:35 a.m. EDT
In a matter of a few hours the morning skates at Joe Louis Arena will be over. The teams will head back for a relaxing afternoon. They'll have a team meal and pre-game naps will be in order before they head back over to the Joe for Game 1.
I'm assuming that Nicklas Lidstrom and Jonathan Ericsson are both going to play for the Red Wings and both Pavel Datsyuk and Kris Draper will not. I also assume that the Penguins will dress 11 forwards and seven defensemen.
Based on those assumptions, here are the five things I'm going to be watching for tonight:
1. Crease Crashers
I definitely think the two people in the hockey world that will be working the hardest tonight are Chris Osgood and Marc-Andre Fleury. I say that because both are going to have to fight through screens and worry about being bumped while being bombarded with shots. From the Penguins' perspective, watch Sidney Crosby (I know, how can you not, right?) Crosby has done a masterful job of going to the greasy areas to score goals this playoff season. He'll be in Osgood's face more than once tonight. Obviously, Fleury is going to have to deal with Tomas Holmstrom, Dan Cleary, Johan Franzen, etc. The team that does a better job of crashing the crease will be at an advantage. You have to think it'll be the Wings, but we'll have to wait and see.
2. How the Wings handle 7-11
The interesting thing about the Penguins lineup of 11 forwards and seven defensemen is most of the time it gets Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the ice for an extra shift every other rotation with Craig Adams and Miroslav Satan. That means added responsibility for the Wings' defensive pairs that will be matching Nos. 87 and 71. I expect Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski to be on Crosby watch while Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall will be on Malkin watch. Usually when the opposition's fourth line is on the ice Wings coach Mike Babcock doesn't have to worry about matching, but with this set up he has to at least be aware. Then again, it's not as if Brett Lebda and Ericsson are slouches.
3. Penguins power play vs. Wings penalty kill
This will be huge. The Wings' penalty kill was only 73.7 percent in the first three rounds while the Penguins' power play was nearly 20 percent. As we all know, special teams makes the difference in close games and this is where the Penguins might have a big advantage. You would have thought by now the Wings, with all of their defensive talent, would have figured out the PK. They haven't. They were 78.3 percent in the regular season. Now they have to contend with Sergei Gonchar and Malkin at the points, Crosby or Jordan Staal down low and waves of wings including Bill Guerin, Chris Kunitz, Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko. And, I think they'll have to do it without Datsyuk.
4. Wings power play vs. Penguins penalty kill
The best defense against a sub-par penalty kill is a fabulous power play and that's exactly what the Wings have. Flip it around and now the Penguins are going to have to deal with a group that is better than 25 percent in the playoffs. The Penguins PK is 83 percent, but Detroit is a different animal altogether.
Detroit is better in the circle with a .528 winning percentage. The Penguins are dead even at .500. Like special teams, faceoffs are huge in close games, especially between two teams that love to have the puck. You would think that without Draper and possibly Datsyuk, the Penguins have an early advantage in the circle. Not so. Henrik Zetterberg comes in with a .551 winning percentage on his 322 draws and both Valtteri Filppula and Darren Helm are at least 50 percent. The Penguins have just two centers that are 50 percent or better. Crosby has won 54 percent of his 422 draws in these playoffs. He takes just about all of the power-play draws and is 63-52 so far. Jordan Staal is also better than 50 percent on 265 draws. He needs to be better when shorthanded (just 22-32 so far).
Come on back later in the day for another pre-game update, and then follow along with me as we watch Game 1 together, armchair to armchair.
Comparisons: Why not? They're fun
05.29.2009 / 11:40 a.m. EDT
Across the news landscape today you will find comparisons between the Edmonton Oilers circa 1984 and today's Pittsburgh Penguins. Heck, just look here and here, and that's only what's on this web-site. TSN.ca and ESPN have also covered it.
Granted, these comparisons only go so far because the Oilers won the Cup that year to start a dynasty whereas the Penguins haven't won anything yet.
So what? That detail doesn't matter right now. If we only talked about comparisons after they were obvious, what fun would that be?
None at all.
We talk about comparisons before the entire story is complete because it's more interesting that way and it gets people talking before the series begins, which, of course, is always the point.
And, really, when you really take a close look at it, the comparisons between the '84 Oilers and the '09 Penguins are quite unbelievable. Take them for what they're worth and have fun with them instead of getting all hot and bothered over them.
-- The Oilers lost to the dynastic Islanders in the '83 finals before beating those same Islanders in the '84 finals.
-- The Penguins lost to the NHL's modern day version of a dynasty, the Red Wings, in the '08 Final. They have a chance to beat those same Red Wings in the '09 finals.
-- The Oilers had Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, the NHL's best young dynamic duo of that generation and a pair of future Hall of Famers.
-- The Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the NHL's best young dynamic duo of this generation and arguably a pair of future Hall of Famers. Though, it should be noted that Gretzky trumps both of them. There will never be another Gretzky.
-- The Oilers fought adversity on Feb. 12, 1984, when they lost to the Hartford Whalers, 11-0. It was their fifth straight loss.
-- The Penguins fought adversity all the way up to Feb. 15, when Michel Therrien was fired and replaced by Dan Bylsma.
-- The Oilers won 18 of their last 22 games after that loss to Hartford.
-- The Penguins won 18 of their last 25 games after Bylsma took over.
-- The Oilers needed seven games to beat their biggest rival, the Calgary Flames, to advance to the Conference Final.
-- The Penguins needed seven games to beat their biggest rival, the Washington Capitals, to advance to the conference finals.
-- The Oilers swept the Minnesota North Stars in the conference finals to earn a second straight trip to the Stanley Cup finals.
-- The Penguins swept the Carolina Hurricanes in the conference finals to earn a second straight trip to the Stanley Cup finals.
So, yeah, I think the comparisons are warranted. Who cares if the Penguins haven't won yet? If they do, these comparisons are validated. If they don't, well, we move on, admiring the dynastic Red Wings all the way.
That's a win-win for me.
Catchy title to the blog, eh?
05.28.2009 / 2:30 p.m. EDT
'Armchair Power Play' comes from the idea that I will be sitting right next to the armchair of my living room couch, likely with my dog, Charley, by my side, watching and blogging the Stanley Cup finals between the Red Wings and Penguins.
Well, my wife is due with our first child - it's a boy (right wing?) - any day now, so traveling to Detroit at this stage is sort of looked at as a no-no in my household. Heck, I'm scared to even go down the street to the 7-11 to get a fountain coke, and I love my fountain cokes.
You just never know. Or, at least, that's what I'm told. Remember, this is my first.
So, forgive me, but this is the way I'm going to have to cover the Stanley Cup finals. It's not ideal and I will miss being in the arenas, but the NHL.com boys will be providing both you and me all of the information we need about the upcoming series. We've got a tremendous crew in Detroit right now. Nobody covers the NHL better than our guys.
My role with this blog is to give a personal touch to what we're all seeing live on television and reading about in the various articles being published right here on NHL.com or various publications across the continent.
It'll be mostly analytical with opinion and some backstories to back up what I'm writing. Usually, my writing will just be me thinking out loud. So, I'm basically saying you'll have to deal with my rambling.
I encourage you all to participate in this blog experience, too. You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below. I'll be checking both daily (unless my wife goes into labor) and will be referring to your comments in my daily blogging.
I'll be doing live blogging during the game, but it won't be anything to do with play-by-play. I'll try to take you inside the game a little bit. I'll also be blogging before and after games and on off days.
In the morning after games I'll be providing a morning reading list, which will give you links to all of the stories off of the previous night's game that were written by the NHL.com crew.
You'll be dancing around this web-site. It'll be your hockey oasis.
So, come along and join me as we venture through the Stanley Cup Finals together, from one armchair to the other.