Archive for May, 2009

Petulance vs. Maturity

Despite all the talk about the Pens’ having grown up, it’s clear that they’re still a long way from real maturity. The sequence in the closing minutes with Malkin’s ridiculous antics, and Talbot’s spear are just the most obvious example. They’re in danger of falling into the same trap Chicago did, and if they do, the next couple games aren’t going to be pretty. They’re playing well in general, but are completely lacking in composure when faced with real adversity. It’s cost them two games, and now the question is this: will they realize it and shape up in time to prevent losing three and four?

Malkin’s immaturity may cost his team his services in Game 3, should the League follow its own rules. Honestly, I don’t expect them to and that’s not cynicism. Worse offenses by players with worse records have gotten out of “automatic suspensions” in this post-season before.

For the Wings, it was the second straight game in which a minute-by-minute analysis would likely show them being outplayed for much of the game. But they’re doing the things they need to do to win. They’re opportunistic and battling. They’re keeping their composure, and staying alive through Pittsburgh pushes (really, the second half or so of each period). They can still be better offensively, but it’s hard to argue with results. This group has championship-level poise.

Once again, Osgood was strong. You can’t overstate the guy’s value to this team in this run.

Helm, Abdelkader, Zetterberg all had great nights, I thought. Hank could finish his plays a little more often, but he’s looking like a real leader out there, in my book.

The Wings’ll need really bring their A-game to Pittsburgh Tuesday, because despite their frustration, this doesn’t mean the Pens are done. This series is far from over, however good a tw0-game lead feels tonight. The Wings earned a nice psychological edge with these back-to-back games (maybe they were so bad after all), but if Sidney and Co. can keep their emotions in check (or rather, apply them properly), that edge can get dulled.

No Datsyuk Tonight

Quick update with some bad news: Babcock said today that there’ll be no lineup changes for Game 2, which means no Draper, and more importantly, no Datsyuk.

So, we can look to Game 3 on Tuesday as a possible return date. However, Bruce MacLeod doesn’t offer a lot of hope with this response to the question of whether or not we’ll see Pavel again this season. 

Going with the same group that won Game 1 would normally be a good thing, but even a winning formula becomes weaker the longer the Wings are without at least Datsyuk.

Game 1: Wings 3, Penguins 1

Short on time this morning, so this’ll be brief:

… I thought the Wings started out pretty well. There were a couple chances early that would have made nice goals, and aside from those, the action was pretty solid. It seemed to me that the Pens started taking over slightly around the 5:00 mark.

… But it was Detroit that got on the board first, with the help of the boards. A couple Pittsburgh turnovers in their own zone led to a Stuart shot that missed the net, hit the backboards, bounced back toward the front of the net, and went in off Fleury’s skate before making it there. A flukey goal, sure, but the Wings made their own luck in forcing the turnovers.

… Pittsburgh’s goal late in the period was the result of a Stuart turnover, unfortunately. Malkin intercepted a Stuart outlet pass off the boards, and turned it into a shot that Osgood stopped. He didn’t control the rebound terribly well, and Fedetenko was able to take advantage of the broken play caused by the Stuart TO by picking up the puck and putting it past Osgood. He was uncovered.

… Osgood had to be strong to start the second as the Wings were weak in their own end early on. He made what was probably the biggest save of the game at 3:24 of the period when Malkin got a breakaway after tripping Kronwall at the Pittsburgh blue line (apparently superstars are immune to the usual rules on tripping). Malkin tried to snipe it, and Osgood got his glove on it to keep it 1-1.

… The Wings went to the box at 4:38 when Lebda’s efforts to stick check a Penguin led to that Pens’ stick falling apart like straw. I’m all for calling the really viscious slashes that break sticks, but I honestly didn’t think Lebda hit it so hard. Considering how easily these things break, it’s probably excessive to assume every time one breaks it’s worth a penalty. Anyway, the Wings killed it off very well, with Helm standing out once again.

… At 7:05, Jordan Staal demonstrated his diving technique when he felt Samuelsson’s hand on his shoulder. Maybe it was a holding penalty, but Staal went down way too early and way too demonstratively. I wish the officials still enough self-respect to call diving. It’s really a slap to their face every time.

… Let’s remember that this whole time, Pittsburgh is setting picks (interference) on top of holding, tripping and elbowing (Crosby’s center ice encounter with Zetterberg). On some of them, even NBC was expecting a penalty. They finally got slapped with one at 13:44, but they got away with one of the most egregious penalties of the night when Cooke headhunted Holmstrom with his elbow well after the whistle.

… Late in the period, the Wings came at Pittsburgh pretty hard, and it paid off with another fortunte bounce. This time, it was a Rafalski shot that came hard off the boards. Franzen played it well and threw it at back toward Fleury, who kicked it in with his leg.

… The third was a lot of Pittsburgh, to be honest. The Wings had their stretches, though, and were able to make it a 2-goal lead at 2:46 when a pressure shift by the fourth line led to Justin Abdelkader pulling his own rebound out of the air and down to his stick before putting the puck in the net. That unit had a very strong third, I thought.

… Pittsburgh came hard after the goal, and forced the Wings to play defense much of the rest of the period. The Wings nearly made it 4-1 on a late flurry involving the fourth line, and then again with the empty net, but the couldn’t seal it until time expired.

… A good start, though I’d be less generous with that had they played the same way and lost. They’ve got to be better today.

I don’t have time for a full three-key preview, but I can say that for Pittsburgh, the big key will be forechecking. That killed the Wings at times last night.

For Detroit, it’ll be a more general “killer work ethic.” If the Wings work their butts off and keep their feet moving, they’ll both get to the puck first and be able to establish their puck possession game, and they should be able to draw some penalties.

… No word on Datsyuk’s status yet, but I’m having my doubts that he’ll be back tonight. I hope I’m wrong.

I’ll be at my in-laws today, with limited access to the computer, so I may or may not be around until sometime before the puck drops.

The Wizard

We can thank Chris Osgood for this one. His teammates weren’t terrible, not by a long shot, but Osgood’s sustained excellence held off a Pittsburgh team that had the stronger night of the two squads.  I think it’s safe to say Osgood stole it. He had a very strong game, with the save on the Malkin breakaway standing out among a series of very good saves. He looked a little silly on the Pittsburgh goal, giving up the rebound like that, but throughout the second and third, he was a rock.

A brief word on officiaing: I’m all for letting the two teams play, but not at the expense of calling obvious stuff. I can think of multiple painfully obvious calls the officials blew and too many of them involved Pens targeting Hossa. I knew they’d try to get in his head by tying him up and throwing him off his game, but I didn’t think the refs would turn a blind eye to it. Not cool.

With Crosby’s little stickwork on Maltby after the game, you have to wonder if the Wings aren’t back in Pittsburgh’s collective heads. They played well enough and forced enough bounces to do it, so it’s going to be interesting to see how the Pens respond tomorrow.

The Wings need to get at them with a stronger overall effort in Game 2. They didn’t get their offensive game established all that well, even accounting for the difficulties presented by the second period’s penalties. And defensively, they can be better. The penalty kill was encouraging, but at even strength there were far too many Pittsburgh pressure shifts brought on by in-zone turnovers.

Getting the first win is huge. Now let’s get the next one, guys.

More tomorrow morning.

The Mountaintop

At the start of the playoffs, I coopted a Ken Hitchcock comment in which he talked about the difficulty of getting “the players to climb the mountain again.” He was referring to the task of defending the Cup, something he called the most “difficult challenge I’ve ever had in coaching.” Well, so far the Wings have met the challenge, and now they’re at the most difficult part: defending the top of the mountain from a team that’s climbed it from the other side.

Pittsburgh, like the Wings, was at this mountaintop before, and they faced a similar difficulty in getting back here. We can debate which team had the harder climb, but the important thing is that they’re both here again, and are both looking for the same prize. At risk of taking the metaphor too far, I’ll stop there. But that’s the setting.

This series is going to be epic, and not because of the cooked-up storylines. The hockey is going to be incredible, and the games are going to be tight. But it’s a series the Wings can win, a series they will win. Health is a huge factor here, but I feel as though the main difference will be between a short series in which Detroit wins, or  a long series in which the Wings win, if only by pulling it out of the fire.

Why do I think this? It’s not to knock Pittsburgh, which is a very good team. It’s just that I believe the Wings to be that much better. Pittsburgh has yet to face a team defense that the Wings can boast even without key pieces such as Kris Draper or Pavel Datsyuk. They’ve yet to face a team that plays such a skillfully physical game. And they have yet to face a team that can control the puck for so much of the time.

To be fair, the Wings haven’t faced the kind of talent the Pens can boast in Crosby and Malkin. Toews and Kane aren’t in the same class, yet. Getzlaf and Nash certainly aren’t. That’s a real consideration. And Pittsburgh boasts better supporting casts  in the forward corps than the Wings have faced in Columbus, Anaheim, or Chicago. But.

Notice I said “in the forward corps.” I make that distinction because it seems to me that the Pens have the kind of defense that makes the Wings’ forwards salivate. Orpik, Gonchar, Gil, Scuderi, Eaton, Letang, Boucher? This fan of the team that defeated the top-level Anaheim defense laughs at you. Even the Pens’ main defensive asset, the Staal line, can only cover one unit out of four that are each legitimate scoring threats, if in varying degrees.

That’s the thing here: Pittsburgh is facing a team with real depth, a team that has a guy like Darren Helm spending the season in the AHL. A team that did without Jonthan Ericsson until an injury made calling him up necessary. Pittsburgh, a deep team in its own right, hasn’t face a team with the kind of depth offered by the Wings. Injuries can even things up a bit, but barring wide-scale health issues, I think the Wings can take the Pens head to head over a seven game series.

That’s because as much as Sidney and Company want to avenge the loss they suffered last summer, the Wings want to defend their championship more. In all the talk about the new, improved, and highly-motivated Pens, let’s not forget that. The Pens are at a disadvantage because of it from the start. Detroit needs to make sure they keep them at a disadvantage, and that means winning Game 1, and coming back the next day with another win.

These games are huge, and don’t have to be a handicap on the Wings. Detroit needs to see them as an opportunity to put the Pens on their heals with a lightning-fast double blow. Do that, and the Wings are going to add another chapter to their legend with this series. Is going up 2-0 critical to winning the series? No, but it will certainly help in defending the mountaintop from the upstart climbers. This is Detroit’s space, this mountaintop, and they’re not about to surrender it.

Five hours until game time. I can’t wait.

Datsyuk, Draper out; Lidstrom, Ericsson in

Bruce MacLeod has the news here.Great news on Lidstrom and Ericsson, obviously. Expected, but sucky, news on Datsyuk and Draper.

Apparrently, both Ericsson and Datsyuk took part in the optional morning skate, but obviously in Jonny’s case it was to make up for two days of not skating, and in Datsyuk’s it was just another test drive of his bum foot. Here’s hoping he’s able to go tomorrow, though the odds of him improving enough a single day later don’t seem all that good.

It must be pretty serious pain to keep him out, because even a 75% effective Datsyuk is better than no Datsyuk. From media reports of practice yesterday, it sounds like he couldn’t get around all that well.

Preview/pre-series commentary coming this afternoon.

Pre-Finals Press Conferences: Babcock

Q.  I saw you out jogging earlier, running down the boardwalk.  What goes through your head on these kinds of runs?  Are you thinking about this match-up, or are you completely somewhere else while you’re running?

COACH BABCOCK:  Yeah, I don’t know.  I run there as much as I can in the spring.  The city’s done a real good job here of making the riverbank nice.  And there’s people walking out there.  I usually run in the morning.  Didn’t have time this morning, so I go out there at noon.

You know, when you win, it’s a fun place to run.

Q.  Can you run through the wounded for us.  Most of them are on the ice today?

COACH BABCOCK:  I think everybody’s ready to go.  Pavel’s going to be the only last-minute decision.  Everyone else will be ready.

Q.  Ericsson as well?

COACH BABCOCK:  Ericsson’s playing for sure.  He just didn’t want to with the surgery he had, they didn’t want to put him on the ice today.  But he’ll be ready to go tomorrow.

Q.  As you know since Gonchar got hurt, Dan Bylsma’s run 7 D and taken a forward out which he’s pretty much put Malkin and Crosby, sometimes Jordan Staal, but mostly Malkin and Crosby on that fourth line.  When you look at how to defend the Penguins, does that add an extra wrinkle in how you go about it in their explosiveness?

COACH BABCOCK:  I think so for sure.  I think right down the middle it is a huge strength for them without any question.  And what you do is you turn your fourth line into a regular line or a line you’ve got to watch just because the best players or two of the best players in the world, for sure, and another big man are playing down the pipes.  So it creates match-up problems for you, no question about it.