art 2 of our look at the series puts the Wings highly talented defense up against the Penguins prolific offense. Just to be clear, this includes the entire defensive and offensive aspect of each team--forwards playing defense and defenders playing offense.
|Pittsburgh GOALS for per game||3.82 (1st)
|Detroit GOALS allowed per game||2.12 (2nd)
|Pittsburgh SHOTS for per game||34.9 (3rd)
|Detroit SHOTS allowed per game||28.8 (2nd)
To say that the Red Wings have a solid defense is a bit of an understatement. During the regular season, it was much maligned for its seemingly half-hearted efforts but has tightened it up in the playoffs. Allowing a scant 2.12 goals per game in the playoffs, the Wings have found some success with Jonathan Ericsson in the lineup. If Nick Lidstrom is able to return for the first game, the Red Wings will look to regroup after having been without him for the last two games.
Part of the Detroit success defensively comes from their offensive skills. The Wings play a legendary puck possession game and can limit how often the other team gets chances. This is in large part due to the great forechecking and backchecking that the Wings use to force turnovers.
While the "shots blocked" column won't amaze you (6th in playoffs) the "hits" one will--525, good enough for 2nd behind Carolina, with 2 fewer games. The fact that the Wings are outhitting their opponents is a big surprise to them and creates "head on swivel syndrome"; forcing shots earlier or bad passes that lead to turnovers.
Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall have been quiet but highly effective contributors to this defense in terms of takeaways, blocked shots, hits, and more importantly, ice time. Its not just the defensemen that are problems for the opposition either. Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Marian Hossa, and Dan Cleary have all made a name for themselves in the league for their defensive skills to go with their offense. Now with the emmergence of other great defensive forwards like Darren Helm, Johan Franzen, and Mikael Samuelsson; the Red Wings are top to bottom a great defensive team.
Really the only ways to beat the Wings are with speed and puck possession. Fatiguing the defense and taking away the offensive threat will put the pressure on the defense to keep it a low scoring affair. Also, if the Pens are able to utilize the skating speed that they have and speed in their passes, they can beat the Wings down the ice--just don't count on that happening all that much with Babcock on the bench and Lidstrom commanding the defense.
You didn't think I was done did you?
Right now, the Pittsburgh offense is seemingly scoring at will. It's hard to believe that a team that loses a guy like Marian Hossa and a role player like Ryan Malone gets better offensively than it was the year before. But that's exactly what they've done. At this point in the playoffs last year, the Penguins were averaging 3.64 goals for until they ran into the Red Wings in the Finals. The Wings held the Penguins scoreless twice and under 2 goals two additional times. The Penguins return to the playoffs with a rekindled fire under new coach Dan Bylsma. Pittsburgh's averaging 3.82 goals a game on about 35 shots. To get here the Pens made quick work of the Canes and goalie phenom Cam Ward, scoring no fewer than 3 goals and 6+ goals on two occasions.
But just like 2008, the Penguins will face their toughest test in the last stage. Although Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby are playing like men possessed, let's face it, the defenses faced are nothing like that of Detroit. Philadelphia's D- can you name more than 2 players? Washington's D is pourous on its best day. Carolina's defense is good but was banged up and burnt out after back-to-back, physical 7 game series to get to that point (and wasn't all that tested anyway). It will be interesting to see how Malkin and Crosby deal with a defense that will undoubtedly give them the most pressure so far this year.
All that being said, it's tough--and you'd have to be stupid--to deny the offensive skill the 09 Penguins have. It's not just Crosby and Malkin either, it's guys like "Mad Max" Talbot, Bill Guerin, Ruslan Fedetenko, Jordan Staal, and even D-men like Gonchar and Letang. Although Crosby and Malkin are like wheels on a car, they can't go anywhere without the supporting cast that provides the power to spin the wheels. Fedetenko has been an unsung hero and could be the surprise of the series.
Who has the advantage?
The 09 Penguins have a great offense and one that has more depth than the 08 version. That being said, I still think the Red Wings have too much to throw at them to slow them down defensively. The Penguins will have to get past the numerous great defensive forwards of Detroit before they can even get a crack at Lidstrom & Co. Too much talent and depth defensively for the Wings, even with Malkin and Crosby on the ice I give this to Detroit.