There is a growing sense in NHL circles that the Pittsburgh Penguins are more equipped to upend the Detroit Red Wings in a rematch of the Stanley Cup Finals which begins tonight at 8:00 p.m.
Pittsburgh is a more confident and experienced team than the team that went into Joe Louis Arena and were shutout for the first two games of the 08 Finals.
Pittsburgh expects a different result as they know what to expect this time around.
“Well I think there are no surprises this year,” Sidney Crosby said on Friday. We know what to expect, simple things like today, we know what to expect. We know our opponent, last year that wasn’t the case.”
For the Red Wings, they come into the Finals as the favorites to repeat as champions.
Despite being the favorites, there is a belief that the Red Wings tank is near empty and that history will be on the Penguins side.
The Red Wings and the Penguins are the first teams to meet in a rematch of the Stanley Cup Finals since the Cup Finals in 1984 between the Edmonton Oilers and the New York Islanders.
The Oilers ended the Islanders dynasty in 1984 and went on to win four Stanley Cups in the 1980’s.
Momentum is tilting to Pittsburgh due to the phenomenal play of Evgeni Malkin (28 pts) and Sidney Crosby (28 pts), and the fact that the Red Wings will not have a healthy Pavel Datsyuk.
Scouting the Penguins
In the 08 Finals, the Penguins were timid, conservative and not opportunistic under former head coach Michel Therrien.
That was a recipe for disaster against the Detroit Red Wings.
Following a coaching change in February, the Penguins now play an Up-Tempo system that focuses on being aggressive in the neutral zone.
Against a team like Detroit which masters the puck-possession game, Pittsburgh is playing a style that will force the Red Wings into turnovers and the chances are slim that the Penguins will record less than 20 shots on goal in any game, which was the case in game 1 of the 2008 Stanley Cup finals.
What to watch for
Crosby – Malkin Factor
The Penguins boast the games top dynamic due down the middle in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Crosby has established himself as the games most complete scorer and he become an elite goal scorer in the playoffs, scoring 14 goals in 17 games.
Future Hall of Fame defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom will have the primary duty of slowing down Crosby in what proves to be a great matchup between two of the games top players at their positions.
Evgeni Malkin was non-existent in the 08 finals and 08 East Finals. The benefit for the Penguins this around, Malkin is determined to quiet his critics and he is in much better physical shape to withstand a long playoff run. That wasn’t the case, the past two seasons.
To make an attempt to shutdown Malkin, the Red Wings will have hard hitting defenseman Nicklas Kronwall matched up against the NHL’s scoring champion.
Malkin like most elite players, excels when giving space. If the Red Wings want to have success against Malkin, they will have to physical and aggressive at the blue line.
Will the Red Wings be able to slow down Crosby, Malkin?
The Flyers, Capitals and Hurricanes were not able slow down Malkin and Crosby as the dynamic duo have combined for 56 points in the playoffs.
The luxury the Penguins won’t have that they had in their previous three series, is going up against the likes of Joe Corvo and Tim Gleason.
Things won’t be easy for Malkin, Crosby.
Red Wings have clear advantage in the depth department
The Red Wings are the deepest team in the National Hockey. Not only do you have to deal with star forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa, & Johan Franzen, you also have to deal with role players such as Dan Cleary (14pts), Valtteri Filppula (14 pts), Mikael Samuelsson (9pts) who have the offensive ability to be difference makers.
Pittsburgh will benefit from the loss of Pavel Datsyuk who will not play in game 1 and could be limited for the rest of the series.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin overcome a lot of deficiencies in other areas but if the Penguins don’t get secondary scoring, this series will be over early.
An X-Factor for the Penguins will be Jordan Staal. He played the game of his life in Detroit this season scoring a hat trick and dominated at both ends of the ice.
Pittsburgh will be counting on him to step up his game in the Finals. Will the Wings bring the best out of him again?
One player the Penguins will be leaning on is Bill Guerin. The addition of Guerin has been characterized as the Penguins “Hossa” trade of 2009. He is having that much of an impact.
“For Billy he has brought a lot on the ice,” Sidney Crosby said on Friday. “He has played great, has a great shot, big body out there, can make smart simple plays.”
“Off the ice, he has provided experience for us, for me personally, he’s been a guy I can lean on.”
Goaltending Matchup: Can Fleury take his game to the next level?
There have been mixed reviews for Marc Andre Fleury (12-5, 2.62 GAA) thoughout the Penguins playoff run. Inconsistent play has plagued Fleury at times but Fleury was solid against the Hurricanes as the Penguins completed a four game sweep.
With a Stanley Cup Finals appearance already under his belt, many expect Fleury to take the next step to elite status this time around.
For Pittsburgh, they will need Fleury to play at the level he did against Philadelphia. He will have to steal a game or two against the Red Wings high octane attack.
On the penalty kill, Fleury will also have to be the Penguins best player. The Red Wings trot out two #1 units with elite players like Marian Hossa, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Pavel Datsyuk.
Can the Penguins solve Chris Osgood?
For all the flaws Detroit Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgood (12-4, 2.25 GAA) has, he wins big games and he wins championships. Pittsburgh could not solve Osgood last spring and he looked like the second coming of Patrick Roy.
The key to beating Osgood is getting traffic in front of the net. If Pittsburgh gets to Osgood early in the series, things could turn into Pittsburgh’s favor
Series Prediction: Penguins in 6