Archive for May, 2008

Game 4: @ Pittsburgh, 8:00 ET

Update (3:50 PM): The anonymous CBC playoff blogger has a pre-game post worth reading. - Matt

Update (1:27 PM): An encouraging report from Brian Compton of the NHL’s Western Conference Champtions Blog says Holmstrom looked fine on the ice today. Compton writes he’ll be “shocked” if Homer doesn’t play tonight. - Matt

Tonight is the fourth game of the Stanley Cup Finals Detroit leads the series 2-1 with wins in Game 1 (4-0) and Game 2 (3-0). Pittsburgh took Game 3, 3-2.

The Penguins showed up to play Wednesday night and finally made this something of a competitive series. A Pittsburgh win tonight would make things really interesting as the two teams head back to Detroit. Some keys to the game for Sidney Crosby and Company:

Score first, score early. It worked Wednesday and would force the Wings to alter their gameplan. Detroit is less effective playing from behind.

Power play. With Therrien still whining about obstruction, my guess is the Pens will see more power play tonight, if only because the officials have been subliminally influenced. The fact that the Mellon Arena crowd will gasp at everything the Wings do should also increase their chances. The Pens need to capitalize on these opportunities by putting on sustained pressure at the least.

Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury was very strong in Game 3 and will need to repeat that performance tonight. He gave up few second chances, something that will be huge tonight if the Wings come hard.

It looks like the Pens are planning on using the same lineup tonight.

Detroit got a taste of what happens when you let down your guard against a team as offensively talented as Pittsburgh Wednesday night. That they only lost by a goal is a testament to their own ability. Tonight they need to build on their Game 3 third period performance and pull out the strangehold win.

Some keys to the game for Detroit:

Take the crowd out of it. The Igloo crowd was impressive Wednesday, but it was allowed to be far too vocal. The Wings need to score a quick goal or two or otherwise dominate the Pens so that the crowd shuts up. That way Pittsburgh won’t get that emotional fuel and the officials will be slower to make crowd-influenced calls.

Power play. I don’t expect many chances here, but the Wings need to capitalize on what they do get. The power play has been bad so far in this series, with the second unit outshining the first. They  need to score with the man advantage more often than not tonight.

Eurotwins. I’ve been seeing headlines asking where Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have gone in his series and I’ve laughed them off for one reason: they have been playing quite well even though their offensive production is down. That said, I’d like to see them net a few pucks tonight. Datsyuk in particular has been playing with fire, as evidenced mostly by his physical play, but the Wings really need them to be at their offensive best tonight.

Tomas Holmstrom (hamstring) is a game-time decision tonight after practicing this morning.If he’s in, I hope he’ll be more effective than he’s been since about Game 4 of the Stars series.

It looks like Andreas Lilja remains in. Chris Chelios was understanding of his “scratch” status when the Wings were winning, but something tells me he’ll be less so if he remains out following a loss.

If we have more hockey like we saw in the third period of Game 3, we should have a heck of a game tonight.

5/30 Holmstrom Update

Update (5:18 PM): Bruce MacLeod has the latest on the Holmstrom situation. Basically, his chances for Game 4 don’t seem good. He did not practice today, and the Wings used Dan Cleary on the top line in his absence. This indicates they are not expecting him to play. Evidently, the injury is to his right hamstring.

Darren McCarty skated with the fourth line instead of Kirk Maltby, who moved up to the third line. - Matt

Helene St. James reports that Tomas Holmstrom is still feeling the effects of his late-third period encounter with Hal Gill.

Apparently, he limped into Mellon Arena today prior to the Wings’ practice. The injury appears to be to his right leg.

Homer told St. James that he hopes to be in the lineup tomorrow. We’ll likely know more after practice.

Game 3: Wings 2, Penguins 3

The Detroit Red Wings lost the third game of the Stanley Cup Finals last night, falling 3-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The series now stands at two games to one with Detroit in the lead.

Well, that wasn’t completely unexpected, was it? Despite the Wings’ dominance in the first two games, I never really expected them to sweep. I knew the Pens had it in them to make this a series. That doesn’t mean the loss is any less disappointing, because it’s not. Particularly because of how it happened.

The Wings started out fairly well, I thought. They outshot the Penguins 9-1 at one point and seemed to be relatively in control despite the fact that Pittsburgh’s play was much improved even at the onset.

The obvious turning point of the game was Brad Stuart’s poor pass off the skates of Henrik Zetterberg late in the first. The Penguins quickly turned that gaffe into a goal and didn’t look back until the third period. Some distributions of blame on that sequence: first, Stuart should have made a better pass. Second, Zetterberg could have done a better job of receiving it. Third, Chris Osgood didn’t cover the post as fully as he should have.

It was just a one-goal game at that point, which makes the Wings’ second period performance all the more disappointing. The second was Pittsburgh’s period, even though both teams got one goal. They jumped out to a two-goal lead early in the period and the Wings failed to show any urgency for the majority of the second twenty. Johan Franzen’s incredible personal effort leading to his goal was one of the few highlights.

The third period was far better as the Wings finally seemed to realize what they were up against. Their cause was not helped, however, but a poor decision by Osgood to overplay the puck in the midst of chaos caused by an aggressive Pittsburgh forecheck. Adam Hall was able to bank the puck in off Osgood and return his team to a two-goal lead.

The deficit proved to be too much. Despite expending enormous effort for most of the rest of the period, the Wings were only able to put one more puck in the net. How painful was it to see them get chance after chance only to have the puck bounce just the wrong way? How about Tomas Holmstrom’s gifted goal turn out to be a shot off the post? It was one of the most exciting stretches of hockey I’ve seen in a while, but it wasn’t all that fun to watch. Too many painful moments.

I knew the shutout streak couldn’t last, but it was still disappointing to see the Pens finally crack Osgood. I think I started to develop a bad feeling about the game at that point. Had it been anyone but Sidney Crosby, I probably would have brushed it aside, but it seemed to galvanize the Pens. It also didn’t help that it came off such a bad mistake, which made the Wings look human.

Pavel Datsyuk looked strong last night, but I thought Henrik Zetterberg was a little weak. The Pens’ advantage with having the last chance paid off at least in part, I think. By the way, Datsyuk is playing with an edge that’s fun to watch, but it’d be more fun if he were scoring goals or racking up assists.

Aside from a nice recovery play early in the game, Brad Stuart had a rough night. He was outplayed by Andreas Lilja, to give you an idea.

Johan Franzen looks like he’s back to form and then some. He really should have had a couple goals last night.

Here’s hoping Tomas Holmstrom is okay. He really took a beating last night from the Pittsburgh defense. Hall Gill was especially hard on him, taking two separate cross-checking penalties. Gill was responsible for a bit of unwhistled interference that led to Homer flying into the net and landing on his back in the third period. He did not return to the ice after that.

Valtteri Filppula looked strong again. He’s having a good series so far.

Jiri Hudler was missing the net like Mikael Samuelsson last night.

Nik Kronwall’s tendency to step up to make a big hit hurt him a couple times last night. I love that he plays with an edge, but it’s a high risk strategy.

The officiating wasn’t bad. Therrien’s whining didn’t work as well as he hoped it would.

I should point out that Therrien’s decision to put Darryl Sydor in paid off fairly well. He had a strong game after not playing since March 31st.

I think part of the Wings’ problem last night was that they sort of stopped taking the Penguins seriously. They didn’t play a horrible game, but they were nowhere near the level of perfection needed to beat the Pens. Pittsburgh put on a very good performance and finally showed why they are one of the most skilled teams in the League, but part of their success last night was attributable to Detroit’s lack of urgency through the first forty.

The third period should be a good sign of things to come for Game 4. If Detroit can pick up where they left off there, we should have an incredble game Saturday.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, last night was not all that surprising. I think most of us expected a hard-fought, close series. Pittsburgh confirmed that it can skate with the Wings last night, but this thing is far from over for both sides. I can’t wait for Saturday night.

Game 3: @ Pittsburgh, 8:00 ET

Update (2:56 PM): Kukla’s has Babcock’s game day comments here. - Matt

Update (2:04 PM): I’ve thought more on the question of getting Crosby away from Zetterberg and Datsyuk.

Basically, I now see Therrien as in a very tough position. He has to get Crosby away from those two somehow, but he risks opening up the floodgates of the Wings’ offense if he does so. While Crosby is matched up against the Eurotwins, their first priority is to shut him down. As soon as they go up against a lesser Pittsburgh line, they can move to the offensive. That explains Datsyuk’s road production.

If Therrien can get Jordan Staal out there against them, that would certainly help, but how much? - Matt

Update (1:28 PM): The CBC playoffs blog has a great quote from Mike Babcock in response to a question about the fact that Pavel Datsyuk has only scored on the road this post-season:

“Here’s my theory: we match ‘em up at home, and turn ‘em loose on the road.”

- Matt

Update (12:51 PM): Ansar Khan has it from Mike Babcock in confirmation that the Wings will not make any lineup changes tonight.

He also has an interesting quote from Babcock on a meeting the teams had with team officials today:

“They told us how it (officiating) was going to be done. Most of the meeting had to do with blows to the head.”

So there’s the Pens’ slap on the wrist. - Matt

Update (12:38 PM): At the FanHouse, I’ve got a short post up on the Sydor-Letang switch with a little more detail. - Matt

Update (12:24 PM): A couple things from Bruce MacLeod:

First, Therrien is apparently still looking to put Crosby head-to-head with Zetterberg and Datsyuk despite the fact that he has the option not to now.

My take? The Kid can like challenges all he wants, but Therrien would be stupid not to take the opportunity to gain an actual favorable matchup tonight. If he hasn’t figured it out already, Hank and Pavel are two of the best players in the game as well.

As Tom Benjamin recently asked, “If Henrik Zetterberg plays head to head with Sidney Crosby and outplays him on virtually every shift, is Crosby really the better player?” Replace Hank’s name with Pavel Datsyuk’s and you could ask the very same question. No knock on Crosby, who really is one of the best, but this series should be opening a lot of eyes to just how good the Wings’ “Eurotwins” are.

Second, Crosby wisely gives credit to the Wings’ defense, but not so wisely refrains from giving Osgood his due. Sure Osgood had not had to steal a game in this series, but that’s doesn’t count against his performance. It takes a lot of concentration to remain as focused as he’s been in this series, as Greg Wyshynski pointed out today.

There’s also the fact that the Wings have complete confidence in Osgood and play like it. His contribution may be more intangible than tangible, but it’s no less important for that. I’m not fully sold on his Conn Smythe status because a couple of his teammates have had huge post-seasons, but I don’t think he can be eliminated from the discussion just because the Wings’ defense is so good. - Matt

Update (12:14 PM): Correction: James Mirtle’s FanHouse liveblog begins at 1:00 ET, not noon. - Matt

Update (11:42 AM): The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Darryl Sydor will replace Kris Letang tonight. - Matt

Tonight is the the third game of the Stanley Cup Finals. Detroit leads the series 2-0 with two wins at home (4-0, 3-0).

Pittsburgh is facing another of those must-win situations in which they can technically still afford to lose. If they fall to the Wings tonight, they won’t be done, but they  might as well be. If they win, they are back in the series and have a chance to make it go the distance like the 2003 Ducks. So it is important that they put on a winning performance tonight.

Some keys to the game for Pittsburgh:

Score a goal. Obviously, they can’t win if they don’t score, but it isn’t just about that. They need to show that they can beat the Detroit defense and Chris Osgood. The earlier they score, the better.

Best players. Mike Babcock has gotten laughs for his statements about a team’s best players needing to be its best players, but he’s right. That’s exactly what the Pens need tonight. Sidney Crosby hasn’t been awful, but he hasn’t been that great either. Evgeni Malkin has been awful. For the Penguins to win tonight, both of those guys need to have a big game. If not both, at least one of them does.

Marc-Andre Fleury. Going into the series, I’d say a wide majority of pundits and bloggers gave Pittsburgh the edge in goaltending. The results have not been so convincing. While Chris Osood is not facing many shots, he’s making the saves he needs to make. At the other end, Fleury has not exactly been bad, but he has not been exceptional. His team needs him to be exceptional tonight.

Defenseman Darryl Sydor will make his first post-season appearance this season tonight. No word yet on who will sit in his place. Also, it is possible that Malkin and Crosby could play together tonight.

The Wings have had a great series thus far, but will be a big test for them. With the Penguins sure to be fired up to play in front of their home crowd, Detroit should be ready to play its best game. No letting up now.

Some keys to the game for the Wings:

Score first. The emotional impact of Detroit scoring the first goal will be smaller at the Igloo, but it will count for something, especially if it comes early. Take the crowd out of it, cause the Pens to further doubt themselves, and keep the foot on the gas.

Stay out of the box. This will no doubt be tough after Pittsburgh’s complaints about the officiating, but the Wings need to be careful about taking penalties tonight. If it means playing just a little less tight defensively, so be it. Chris Osgood is up to the challenge of facing more shots.

Depth. With the Pens having the last change, the Wings’ depth will become a major factor tonight. Guys at the bottom end of the roster such as Darren Helm, Kirk Maltby, and Jiri Hudler as well as Brett Lebda and Andreas Lilja will need to be at their best as they are made to go up against Pittsburgh’s stars.

No lineup changes for the Wings. However, if Babcock is unable to orchestrate the matchups he wants via quick line changes, we may see him mix things up a bit.

For Pittsburgh’s sake, I hope they drop their complaints about the officiating and get their act together by realizing their problems are of their own doing. As for the Wings, I hope they just keep doing what they’ve been doing.

Lastly, if you’re not doing anything at noon today, drop by the FanHouse for a livechat between James Mirtle and Seth Rorabaugh of Empty Netters.

Game 2: Wings 3, Penguins 0

Update (1:01 PM): Bruce MacLeod has posted his thoughts on the game. - Matt

The Detroit Red Wings took a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Finals with their second straight shutout win over Pittsburgh last night at Joe Louis Arena.

I missed the first period because I was on the road. I was, however, able to listen to about half of it on the radio (after going through AM about five times and then all the way to the end of FM before finding it on the last FM station). From what I heard, the Wings had a dominant first. The fact that the Penguins didn’t have a single shot until over eight minutes into the game is incredible.

When I heard the call of the Wings’ second goal, it sounded like it was Henrik Zetterberg’s. Then Ken Kal said Tomas Holmstrom’s name and my first thought was it was going to be waived off. How sad is that?

I don’t remember much from the second period. Probably because not all that much happened, though if I recall correctly, this was the period in which Andreas Lilja inexplicably wiped out in the Detroit end, leading to a glorious Pittsburgh chance that fizzled out.

The third period was quite interesting. It began with Ryan Malone’s unecessary hit on Henrik Zetterberg, resulting in a scrum involving Pavel Datsyuk. Both Datsyuk and Malone went to the went to the box, the latter for the third of four times.

Malone cut short a Penguin power play with an idiotic goaltender interference penalty. I’m still not exactly sure why he felt it was okay to run into Osgood.

While the teams were skating four to a side, Valtteri Filppula scored one of the better goals of the playoffs after getting sprung by Johan Franzen. With Kris Letang tripping him up, Filppula did his best Bobby Orr impression  as he put the puck in the net:

Not long after the goal, Gary Roberts saw fit to punch Johan Franzen in the head far away from the play. Completely gutless play on the part of a player who is supposed to have class. It would have been gutless had it been anyone, but the fact that it was a player recently returned from a concussion made it even worse. Somehow the officials missed it and Roberts got away.

Franzen came out on his next shift (I believe) looking for retribution. He chose Maxime Talbot and they both ended up going to the box. Not long after those penalties expired. Ryan Whitney decided to emulate the Pens’ elder statesman by taking a shot at Franzen’s head himself. This time, the officials did call a penalty, overruling Whitney’s declarations of innocence.

The emotions of the third period hit a high point following Petr Sykora’s decision to bump Chris Osgood behind the net. Andreas Lilja reacted angrily and ignited a scrum in which Pavel Datsyuk threw down with a Penguin and somehow escaped without a penalty. Evgeni Malkin, Roberts, Franzen, and Lilja all received roughing penalties, while Sykora got goaltender interference. Roberts was also assessed a 10 minute misconduct.

I have to admit that the Pens’ shenanigans in the third period came as a surprise to me. I thought they were better than that, that they were above such tactics. Evidently, they are not. The various accusations that the Wings were diving do nothing to negate the fact that the Pens resorted to bushleague behavior in the face of another whipping at the hands of a better team.

Then they had the gall to whine about the officiating afterward. Newsflash to Coach Therrien: you’re not losing because of officiating, you’re losing because you’re being beaten by a team that remembers they have to earn their wins. You and your players appear to have forgotten that.

The series is not over yet, but if the Pens don’t find a way to grow up fast, it will be soon.

Now to the question of this series’ excitement or the perceived lack thereof. Do we no longer value talent and skill? I’ve read in a few places today that the Wings are boring, that their dominance is bad for the NHL, etc. To those people I say: get over yourselves.

The Detroit Red Wings are an extremely talented team that excels at both ends of the ice. If they were just a defensive team like the Devils or any one of the pre-Lockout small market teams, I would understand the criticism. As it is, however, I cannot understand why people don’t find Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Valtteri Filppula, Niklas Kronwall, Johan Franzen, and the rest of the team compelling.

They play together as a team, not a group of individuals. This is a team game, is it not? Do you value team play and team skill? From the whiny reactions to this series that I’m reading, I’m starting to think that too many hockey fans want individuals playing pond hockey.

I don’t know if this stems from the typical hatred of Detroit’s success by all those individuals whose fanship is at least partly defined by a desire to see the Wings fail. Whatever it is, it’s ridiculous. I can understand the feeling of being letdown by the fact that the Pens have not been competitive, but it’s not the end of the world. It’s not even the end of the series. Pittsburgh could get its act together Wednesday and make this “interesting.”

By the way, if the tables were turned, I can’t see people complaining about the Pens’ dominance.

Obviously, I’m a biased observer. As a Wings fan, I love every minute they shut out the Penguins, every goal they score, every time they turn away a Pittsburgh rush with ease because all of those things vindicate everything I’ve believed about this team since they were eliminated by Anaheim last year. For Wings fans, their success so far is exciting. I just see no reason by others can’t join in.

Game 2: vs. Pittsburgh, 8:00 ET

Update (12:22 PM): Darren McCarty will sit tonight, according to Bruce MacLeod. No word on what will happen with the forward units, but I’m changing my guess to Jiri Hudler getting the demotion to the fourth line.

MacLeod also has a correction for my Pens lines listed below: Ruutu will center the fourth line, not Roberts. - Matt

Update (12:15 PM): Ansar Khan has more detail on why there was confusion about Franzen’s status. - Matt

Update (12:07 PM): Never mind, Franzen is playing. So says Helene St. James, via Mike Babcock. Great, great news. - Matt

Update (12:05 PM): Bruce MacLeod reports that Johan Franzen will not play tonight. He has not received medical clearance to play, though he did practice today. He is expected back this week, however. - Matt

Update (10:52 AM): Over at the FanHouse, Eric McErlain is hosting a liveblog with IwoCPO and George Malik today at noon. If you’re able, stop by to discuss the series with them. - Matt

Tonight is the second game of the Stanley Cup Finals. Detroit leads the series 1-0 after a 4-0 win over Pittsburgh Saturday night.

The Penguins came into this series without home ice advantage for the first time in their run. They knew that splitting the first two games if they couldn’t win both was going to be necessary. A 2-0 deficit in the Finals is much more difficult to overcome than it is in other rounds. So the Pens face something of a must-win situation here.

Some keys for the Penguins:

Evgeni Malkin. The big Russian just has to play better. Every shift he continues to play average hockey is another shift the Penguins are likely to lose.

Sidney Crosby. The Kid didn’t have a bad game Saturday, but he will need to stand out tonight. This is a time when Pittsburgh needs its best players to, as Babcock would say, be its best players.

Score first. The Wings aren’t phased by being scored on first, but that doesn’t mean they’ve come back to win in those situations. For Pittsburgh, the first goal would be a major boost of confidence.

The Pens shuffled their lines in preparation for the game today:

Hossa-Crosby-Malone
Dupuis-Staal-Kennedy
Talbot-Malkin-Sykora
Hall-Roberts-Ruutu

The only lineup change for the Pens was the insertion of Gary Roberts for Georges Laraque.

For Detroit, this game is an opportunity to push the Pens one step closer to the brink. They will want to pick up where they left off Saturday by coming out strong and carrying it through to the end.

Some keys to the game for Detroit:

The Eurotwins. They had a big defensive night Saturday, but tonight would be a good night for them to shine offensively.

Chris Osgood. The Wings will need the Oz to continue his stellar play as Pittsburgh is likely to bring the offense tonight.

Puck possession. It starts with faceoffs and continues with smart, hard passes. The Wings will need to be at their best in this regard tonight. Keeping the puck away from the Pittsburgh forwards is the best way to ensure they have little impact on the game.

Detroit could see the return of Johan Franzen tonight. If he is not able to return, the lines will remain the same. If he is in the lineup, it’s possible Dan Cleary will drop back to the third line. As to who will sit, my guess is Darren McCarty, whose presence in the lineup is less necessary now that Laraque is a healthy scratch.

Lastly, I have a key for the officials:

Let them play. Game 1 was far too much of a penalty-fest. These are two of the most skilled teams in the League and play that way. They are not the Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, or Philadelphia Flyers. Let them play their game and make calls only if it’s actually necessary.

This should be a heck of a game.

5/25 Johan Franzen Update

Bruce MacLeod reports that the team expects Johan Franzen to return to the lineup within the week. That puts his return date at Saturday at the latest. Franzen could be back Monday, but a return Wednesday in Pittsburgh may be more likely.

With the success of Valtteri Filppula’s line in shutting down Evgeni Malkin last night together with the secondary scoring from Mikael Samuelsson and Dan Cleary, the Wings can afford to delay Franzen’s return a little.