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The Red Wings Should Look to the Penguins for Their Blueprint

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Ken Holland says the Wings need to be bigger, but Pittsburgh just reminded everyone that bigger does not always mean better.

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This off season could prove to be the most important one of Ken Holland's tenure as Red Wings General Manager.  Various decisions need to be made on players who have played important roles in recent years.  Decisions that will likely factor heavily into the long term path of the organization.  If they choose wisely, the Wings could be set up for another long run as a Cup contender.   Choose poorly,  and it could result in them continuing, at best, the also ran status they have held the last 3 seasons.

Ken Holland has said that the Wings are too small and need to get bigger.  Is that really the case though?  Here are the average heights, weights and experience levels of the Red Wings from last season as compared to the two teams who were just playing in the Stanley Cup Finals.  I included the standard deviations as well.

The Wings last year were much closer in terms of overall size and experience to the runner up Sharks then they were to the Cup winning Penguins.  Why is it then that the "smaller" Penguins were the ones raising up the Cup while the Sharks watched from the ice and the Wings from their televisions?  More importantly, what can the Wings do going forward to get themselves back into the deep parts of the playoffs?  For starters they can stop focusing so much on size, but that discussion is for a different article.  For this article I want to discuss a couple things the Wings should focus on instead; namely what the Penguins just did to go from out of the playoffs in December to Stanley Cup Champions in June.

Check out some of the highlights from Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Notice how Pittsburgh does everything quick and decisively?  They move the puck, skate, shoot, fore-check, back check, block shots, etc. with purpose and speed.  When they have the puck they are pushing towards the offensive zone.  Once there they are swarming to the net front area and shooting every chance they get.  When they do not have the puck they are constantly pressuring the puck carrier and trying to force turnovers so they can go on the attack some more.  If any of this is sounding familiar check this out.

That's right, Pittsburgh's strategy was a near carbon copy of how the Wings played under Scotty Bowman in 1997 and is exactly how the Wings should be playing in 2016 as well.

With the likes of Larkin, Tatar, Nyquist, Glendening , Athanasiou and presumably Mantha among others on the roster next season the Wings have a lot of young forwards with speed, skill and energy to burn.  While Kronwall, Ericsson and Marchenko are certainly not the fleetest of foot...Green, Smith and DeKeyser are not what I would call slow either.  Top that all off with the fact that Petr Mrazek is capable of covering up for some of the mistakes made in front of him and you have a large portion of what would be a very dangerous and tough to beat team if they pushed the gas pedal down and ratcheted up the pressure more often.

Admittedly this would require guys like Nyquist and Sheahan to be more decisive on the ice and Tatar to be a little less east/west and a little more north/south but those would be easier fixes than continuing to try and get this team to play a slowed down, controlled puck possession style.  There also is the fact that guys like Zetterberg and Abdelkader cannot necessarily play with that kind of pace and energy consistently anymore.  That actually could be a good thing though.  Think of it in terms of pitchers in baseball.  A line with say Zetterberg, Abdelkader and Nyquist could be the change up to a Tatar/Larkin/Jurco slider and an Athanasiou/Mantha fastball.

Aside from the tempo and pressure increase, there is another big thing the Wings can take from Pittsburgh this season...play their youth.  Pittsburgh had 7 players in the lineup for Game 6 who had 3 years or less NHL experience, all under the age of 26. The Wings had 5 in the lineup for their final game of the season,  and only 4 of them were 25 and under.  Pittsburgh also only had 2 players above the age of 32 in the lineup compared to the Red Wings 4.  If you look deeper it gets even worse.  The Penguins had 14 first or second year players on their roster at some point during the season.  The Wings only had 4, and all of them were rookies.  That is not only a really inefficient way to develop young, effective, cost controlled talent but it is also a really good way to wear down older players over the course of a long season leaving them injured and/or worn out come playoff time.

Ken Holland has said that the criticisms about the Wings being too small were valid and they will look to get bigger in the off season.  Pittsburgh and their youth just finished reminding the league of the same lesson the Wings reminded them of in the late 90s.  Bigger does not always mean better.  Let's hope Kenny was taking notes.