Part 3 brings you the matchup of the Detroit offense vs. the Pittsburgh defense. Once again to clarify, "offense" will include the production by defenseman and "defense" will include the checking, blocked shots, etc. of forwards.
Here are the averages per game and the playoff (rank)
|Detroit GOALS for||3.69 (2nd)|
|Pittsburgh GOALS allowed||2.76 (8th)|
|Detroit SHOTS for||39.5 (1st)|
|Pittsburgh SHOTS allowed||28.9 (3rd)|
This one is a little bit tougher to break down for three reasons.
1) Will Pavel Datsyuk be ready and able to play at at least 75%? Even at 75% he's still better than a lot of players in the league and can be effective.
2.) Will Marian Hossa return to being the goal scoring monster he was in the regular season? If so it's trouble for his former team.
3.) Can the guys that have stepped up all post-season--Dan Cleary, Valtteri Filppula, Darren Helm--continue to shine against a much tougher opponent? They'll need to if 1 & 2 don't come about.
With those three questions out of the way, let's look at the reasons the Wings had success. The reason for the Detroit success offensively is--wait, wait don't tell me...PUCK POSSESSION!--and that's exactly right. There aren't many stats out on time of possession in hockey (because its a hard one to keep these days) but any Wings opponent will tell you that puck possession is a lopsided affair and more importantly, a game killer. In short, the Wings win faceoffs, forecheck like no other team, and have incredible passing skills. All that is used to spread out defenses and eventually wear them down and make space for the sharpshooters like Hossa, Franzen, Zetterberg, and Datsyuk.
In terms of Hossa and Datsyuk, let us draw upon Rage Against the Machine for some inspiration. The lines "What better place than here? What better time than now?" ring true for the necessity of Hossa and Datsyuk's production. If both of these guys can step up and play effectively they'll add to an already potent offense. For Datsyuk it's a matter of health as to whether or not he'll be able to produce but for Hossa he's gotta be able to get shots on net. He's the most powerful stickhandler in the league and can create his own space down the ice but at times he looks to pass when he should shoot. I know you don't want a puckhog but Hossa is one of the few guys you'll allow to do so, he can score from nearly every part of the offensive zone.
Johan Franzen has had a quiet but productive postseason, 3rd in active points behind Crosby and Malkin. "The Mule" could be a big part of this series if he continues his production along with countryman Henrik Zetterberg, both averaging a point a game and leading the team with points at 19 and 18 respectively.
The point is this, the Red Wings top to bottom have more scoring depth than the Penguins. The deciding factor in the series will be rather or not the depth decides to show up. If it does, the Wings can dominate. If not, it's big trouble for the the chances of repeating.
Pittsburgh is anchored defensively by Sergei Gonchar and Brooks Orpik. Orpik leads all defenders in hits in the post season while Gonchar takes a less physical approach. Unfortunately for the Penguins, Gonchar has been bothered by knee problems since a knee-to-knee collision with Alex Ovechkin in Round 2. Pittsburgh has also benefited from great play by guys like Mark Eaton and Rob Scuderi. Scuderi, Eaton, Gonchar, Orpik, and Hal Gil are all in the top 15 of blocked shots during the playoffs.The Pens are excellent at both filling the shooting lanes and moving into them as the shot is on its way. Side note: take a look at how long Hal Gil's stick is. Last game I watched, it was like watching a guy skate around the ice like he was getting ready to pole vault!
Orpik and Gil are the more physical guys but still are great defenders in terms of positioning and making sure there man doesn't slip away. The Pens have some depth in terms of backing up the top 6 with Phillippe Boucher and Alex Goligoski but will need all six of their top defenseman to be at their best against the Wings. Fortunately, the Penguins have some great defensive forwards themselves. Malkin, Guerin and Chris Kunitz are all big factors in takeaways Kunitz espcially in the hit department.
Another plus that the Penguins have is the ability to win faceoffs. Staal, Malkin, and Crosby are all faceoff pros and can help the Penguins control the puck. If they are able to win the faceoffs and keep the puck off of the Detroit sticks, they can relieve some pressure from their defense.
As for the negatives there are two main points. The Pens have 8 guys in the red in terms of plus minus compared to Detroit's 1 (poor Kirk Maltby). The second part is related to the first in a bad way. Not that Detroit has really faced better competition, but really the only team with scoring depth that Pens have faced thus far is the Caps. As you saw in that series, a team with a lot of scoring depth was able to outplay the Pens defense and raise Fleury's GAA.
Who has the advantage? Simple as this. If the Wings are able to run with full capacity and get everyone into the mix offensively, there's no chance for the Pens D. But if they are unable to, the Pens can clamp down on the players that are able to produce and make them a non-factor. Detroit offense gets the advantage though, too much scoring depth