Stanley Cup Finals Thoughts, Game One Pregame

It’s been quiet around here since the Red Wings finished off the Blackhawks and for good reason. Like the Wings themselves, I’ve needed some time off. Much like my hiatus at the end of the regular season it hasn’t been for any bad things, just very busy right now.

Detroit finished off Chicago in five games an as a reward got all of two days rest. Their injuries at the end of the Western Conference Finals have partially healed but they’re still hurting. Nicklas Lidstrom and Jonathan Ericsson are scheduled to return to the lineup tonight but it’s looking like the Red Wings will begin the Stanley Cup Finals without Pavel Datsyuk or Kris Draper.

It looks like this puts Chris Chelios and Derek Meech back in the press box while Justin Abdelkader and Ville Leino make their first-ever Finals appearances.

A lot has been made of what the Pittsburgh Penguins learned during last year’s Finals loss to the Red Wings and that Pittsburgh is a better team than last season. While I won’t deny they’re playing extremely well, I have a hard time taking them seriously.

Their team has gotten better but last year they had Marian Hossa and this year they don’t. That’s a huge loss, one that the addition of Bill Guerin doesn’t make up for. While the Penguins individual players have gotten better I don’t see them as being as talented of a team as a whole without Hossa.

It’s not like the Red Wings haven’t gotten better, too. Assuming Datsyuk and Draper will make an appearance in this series, the only players they’ve lost from last year’s team are Dallas Drake and Andreas Lilja. Lilja has been more than capably replaced by Jonathan Ericsson. Drake’s spot in the lineup has been taken by the aforementioned Hossa, who defected to the Red Wings over the summer.

Hossa is the key to this series, to me. The Penguins couldn’t beat the Red Wings last year when they had Hossa but now they’re expected to when not only do they not have him but Detroit does? On paper, the Penguins are toast.

Of course, the games aren’t played on paper. Cliche but true.

Detroit’s defense will be the other key. Ericsson plays on the Wings’ third defense pairing and could fight for a spot on the top pair of any of the teams the Penguins have eliminated thus far. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have torn it up against Kimmo Timonen and Mike Green and Tim Gleason but will that continue against Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski and Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall?

The Wings and Penguins split the regular season series this season, one game a defensive collapse by Detroit leading to a 7-6 Pittsburgh win, the other being a dominating defensive performance by the Red Wings in a 3-1 win.

That stresses to me the importance of defense in this series. If the Wings shut things down like they’ve done all but one game of these playoffs, they have the series. If it becomes a run-and-gun game then they lose their advantage and the Penguins have a chance.

Comeback Puts Red Wings One Win from Cup

For the first time in these Stanley Cup Finals the team that scored first didn’t win the game, for the first time in these playoffs the Pittsburgh Penguins lost at home, and the Detroit Red Wings now sit one win away from their fourth Stanley Cup Championship since 1997.

Jiri Hudler‘s first goal of the Finals gave the Red Wings a 2-1 lead at 2:26 of the third period.

After Brad Stuart held the puck in at the blue line, Darren Helm set up a pick to let it come to Hudler for a backhander from low in the right circle. The puck bounced off the post and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury before falling across the goal line.

The Penguins had a chance to even things up midway through the third with a long five-on-three. Henrik Zetterberg led the penalty kill, tying up Sidney Crosby‘s stick on what would have been a simple tap-in at one point and stealing the puck for a break into the Pittsburgh zone at another.

Pittsburgh had opened the game’s scoring just 2:51 into the game, with Marian Hossa jamming the rebound of a Sergei Gonchar blast past Chris Osgood from the side of the net on a power play.

Nicklas Lidstrom tied things up for Detroit 4:17 later, rifling a shot from the top of the left circle past Fleury just after the expiration of a power play.

The Red Wings were scoreless on three power play chances while the Penguins scored their lone goal on one of their six tries with the extra attacker.

Osgood made 22 saves on 23 shots in earning the win. Fleury stopped 28 of 30 shots for his first loss at Mellon Arena since November 21.

Detroit can close out the series at Joe Louis Arena on Monday.

The Red Wings were without Tomas Holmstrom, who missed the game with an apparent hamstring injury. Darren McCarty took his place in the lineup and Dan Cleary skated in Holmstrom’s spot alongside Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.

Penguins Finally Score, Take Game Three 3-2

The Pittsburgh Penguins finally got on the board Wednesday night, scoring three times to earn a 3-2 win after being shut out in their first two Stanley Cup Final matchups with the Detroit Red Wings.

With the win, the Penguins avoided going down 3-0 in the series, which now stands at 2-1 with Game Four on Saturday night.

Sidney Crosby led the way for Pittsburgh, scoring the game’s first two goals.

With 2:35 left in the first period, the Pittsburgh captain capitalized on a Detroit turnover. Brad Stuart sent a pass into the skates of Henrik Zetterberg in a failed attempt to clear the Detroit zone. Ryan Malone worked the puck back on to Marian Hossa for a shot that deflected off of both of Nicklas Lidstrom‘s skates to Crosby, who snapped a shot past Chris Osgood.

Just 2:34 into the second period, Crosby banged in the rebound of a power play shot by Hossa and the Penguins had a two-goal lead.

Johan Franzen scored his first goal of the series to get the Red Wings on the board on a Detroit power play. With 5:12 left in the second, Franzen went outside-inside to get around defenseman Rob Scuderi on the left wing and drive to the net. He lifted a near-side shot from in close over the shoulder of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and into the net.

On a broken play at 7:18 of the third, Adam Hall put the Penguins back up by a pair, banking a shot from behind the net off the back of a scrambling Osgood.

With 6:23 left in the game, Mikael Samuelsson snapped a shot from the right wing past Fleury to pull the Wings back within a goal but they would be unable to tie things up, with Pittsburgh holding on for the win.

Fleury stopped 32 of 34 shots in earning the win while Osgood made 21 saves on 24 Pittsburgh shots.

Red Wings – Predators Zombie-Blogging

I realize I never do any fun blogging anymore. Tonight I’m going to try to change that, doing a zombie-blog of the Wings-Preds tilt.

I missed the game live, having had a couple soccer games tonight, so since this isn’t a live-blog but it’s close, so I’ll call it a zombie-blog.

Most people who do this are funny. I’m not. We’ll see how this works.

11:49 PM – Just now getting underway. It’s like a West Coast game if you’re talking about the west coast of Alaska. Or Maui, which is probably more likely given the NHL’s expansion/relocation history.

11:51 PM – Mikael Samuelsson starts with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. I’m insane but I want to see Tomas Kopecky out with them.

11:53 – Hand pass gives me time to mention that this zombie-blog is brought to you by Gatorade, makers of energy drinks and Sidney Crosby commercials.

11:55 – Darren Helm goes to the box. I didn’t see a penalty, whatever.

12:07 – I love Babcock going off on the refs. For once, Andreas Lilja didn’t deserve it.

12:11 – Scott Nichol just saved a goal. Great defensive play. Too bad.

12:13 – You’re kidding me. Giveaway by Niklas Kronwall, Alexander Radulov takes it into the corner and throws it back out front, off Kronwall and Hasek and in. When was the last time the Wings had one like that?

12:16 – End of the first. Yawn. Nothing too exciting, aside from Nichol’s save. Even the lone goal was a boring play.

12:19 – Kronner makes amends. As Redmond says, an awful goal to give up. Ellis just missed it.

12:24 – Chelios with a seeing-eye shot, no idea how that got through. Out comes Ellis. I’m not sure I’d do that.

12:28 – Starting to get chippy. That always worries me against Nashville.

12:29 – Bad clear by Nashville and Brian Rafalski rifles it into the top of the net. Power play goal. Very nice. Ken and Mickey making a big deal about three goals from the Detroit defense.

12:30 – Huge stop by Dom. I hope that means he’s feeling comfortable.

12:52 – Things had been kinda boring but now we’ve got a five-on-five scrum and the goalies yelling. Kind of surprising that no real fights came of that. Maybe not, how often does Nashville actually fight?

12:55 – Hamhuis goes after Zetterberg to end the second. At this point, Nashville’s not looking to make a point. You make a point by fighting the other team’s fighters. This is just thugging it up.

1:00 – The Wings blow a long five-on-three and Nashville comes right back to score. Bad goal for Dom to give up, he came too far off the post. And of course it’s off Kronwall’s stick.

1:04 – Tie game. Dom made a series of saves on the Nashville power play but couldn’t stop the last one.

1:07 – Huge save by Hasek on Bochenski but what was with the giveaway that led to that chance? Replay shows Lebda couldn’t corral it.

1:10 – Johan Franzen‘s been hanging out with Datsyuk and Zetterberg too much. He was all over the Nashville zone all on his own before slipping that shot past Mason to put the Wings back out in front.

1:13 – Dom stones Jordin Tootoo to keep the Wings in front. Someday someone’s going to snap Tootoo in half but for now I’ll take this.

1:20 – Zetterberg hits Datsyuk to put him in all alone and all I can do is laugh. Mason looked terrified. And an octopus hits the ice.

1:29 – Kirk Maltby hits the post on an empty net. Appropriate. Datsyuk puts it in. Also appropriate.

1:31 – And it’s over. I’m glad, this could have gotten messy pretty quick but never got quite to that point. I’m going to sleep.

Thoughts on the NHL Draft Lottery

Over at SportsLogos.Net there’s a debate about whether or not the 2005 NHL Entry Draft was rigged to make sure that the Pittsburgh Penguins got Sidney Crosby.

The debate is in the Winter Classic thread (registration required) so rather than clutter that up with off-topic chatter, I figured I’d bring it here.

User capsfan1000 points out the following, from which I’ll work…

# 2002: Ryan Whitney (5th overall)
# 2003: Marc-Andre Fleury (1st overall) (originally pitsburgh had the 3rd pick)
# 2004: Evgeni Malkin (2nd overall)

Those are some low draft poistions. The Penguins should have been in the same position as the Caps (and the Panthers for that matter) and both should have been in the same boat with one draft ball each. But the NHL fixed it so that the Penguins would have three thereby giving Pitssburgh a better chance of drafting Crosby. In that way the NHL did fix the draft.

That’s where my complaint lies, as well, but it’s not that Pittsburgh got Crosby rather the flaw in the draft system.

The league is set up so that continued dominance is supposed to be difficult. Bad teams are rewarded with the opportunity to draft better players while good teams pick later on. The idea being that the better players will make the bad teams better. Meanwhile, the good teams get worse by losing the ability to pick higher. The Rodent calls it the lava lamp. It doesn’t always work that way but that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

Now lets look at the Penguins. Three pre-Crosby top-five picks in a row. It’s not any other team’s fault that the Penguins failed to use those picks to get anyone who could immediately help their team. Why should Pittsburgh have gotten yet another shot at a top pick because they chose people who wouldn’t have an immediate impact?

I pick on the Penguins because it’s the example that actually happened. In theory it could be much worse.

Lets say Winnipeg (just to use a team that doesn’t currently exist, so as to not piss off a current fanbase) realizes that they need a massive rebuilding effort and are willing to sacrifice several seasons to do it. They know their fans will pack the arena every night no matter how bad they are, so they bomb a season and get a lottery pick. They pick someone who could have an immediate impact but decide not to sign him. Next season, they do the same thing. The year after that, another bombed season (after all, the draft hasn’t helped them yet since they haven’t signed those players).

After three lottery picks in a row, they finally sign all three of those guys, and they’ve got an entire line of future stars coming in. That first player selected should have helped the Jets, maybe even taking them out of the lottery for the next couple years, but the front office deliberately held out for more lottery picks.

Is that extreme? Absolutely, but I think the idea shows the flaw in the system. I think that after a certain number of lottery picks in a row, a team needs to be told “No, you’ve had your turn, you’re doing something wrong, go to the end of the line and try again.” Whether it’s from front office shenanigans or poor drafting, there has to be a point where enough is enough.

Coming back to Pittsburgh, it means that Whitney and Fleury and Malkin should have been enough. It’s the team’s own fault that they drafted people who either weren’t ready for the NHL or couldn’t be signed. No more do-overs.

Three Red Wings to Start All-Star Game

Three Detroit Red Wings will be on the ice at the start of the 2008 NHL All-Star Game, the league announced today.

Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Nicklas Lidstrom were voted as starters to the Western Conference squad, to be coached by Detroit head coach Mike Babcock.

Lidstrom led all Western Conference players in votes with 477,787. Zetterberg and Datsyuk led all forwards with 326,244 and 303,309, respectively.

It marks the tenth All-Star appearance for Lidstrom, who has played in every All-Star Game since 1998. Zetterberg and Datsyuk were selected for the second time, though Zetterberg opted out of his prior opportunity with a back injury.

Calgary’s Jarome Iginla will be the other forward starter with teammate Dion Phaneuf joining Lidstrom on the blue line. Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo will get the start in net.

The Eastern Conference forward starters are Sidney Crosby, Vincent Lecavalier, and Daniel Alfresson. Zdeno Chara and Andrei Markov start on defense with Martin Brodeur in goal.

Is This the Year? Thinking About NHL Marketing

I was shoveling the driveway today and it gave me a lot of time to think. Way much more time than I would have liked. I need a snowblower for days like this.


One of the things I was thinking about was the NHL’s latest marketing campaign. I complain about the way the league markets itself quite a bit but it’s harder to do that with their “Is This the Year?” commercial.

After the lockout I complained that EA and Molson had better “hockey’s back” commercials than the NHL itself did. Now, the league has finally done something right.

The “Is This the Year?” idea is a great one. Playing on the fact that anytime you watch a game, it’s history in the making. Any night you could turn on the TV and see something that’s never happened before.

That’s not hyperbole, it’s fact. How many people tuned into the Detroit – Columbus matchup on November 24th and saw the fastest two goals ever scored by the Red Wings? That’s a small thing but it validates the point the commercial makes.

But while I love the idea, the execution has three flaws that I consider fatal.

The commercial opens with Ryan Miller asking “Is this the year the Cup comes to Buffalo?” Eric Staal and Sidney Crosby add “To Carolina?” “To Pittsburgh?”

I understand that the players the commerical uses – Miller, Staal, Crosby, Vincent Lecavalier and Alexander Ovechkin – are the ones that the league wants to promote, but to include Carolina and Pittsburgh in that question is slightly ridiculous. Carolina won the Cup just two years ago and Pittsburgh won twice in the 1990s.

Would it have been so difficult to have Anze Kopitar ask “To Los Angeles?” with Marian Gaborik adding “To Minnesota?” It’s not hard to find teams that haven’t won the Cup that also have stars that can be used to promote the game.

One of the greatest lines in the commercial has Eric Staal asking “Is this the year we finally figure out who’s dad’s favorite?” If you know who he is and that he is one of three brothers in the NHL (with another on the way), that’s an excellent bit. The problem is that casual fans won’t know that. Would it have been so tough to add a two-second establishing shot of Eric and Jordan (and Marc, even, though the league probably doesn’t care about him as much) with their backs to the camera and nameplates visible, establishing their names?

Finally, with the commercial closing as the players all repeat the line of “Is this the year?” I love that Ovechkin’s line is in Russian. That said, would it have been so hard to include a Swede, a Czech, or any other nationality in to truely showcase the NHL’s international flavor? If you worked in Kopitar in the opening, he’s available to represent Slovenia. Gaborik could represent Slovakia. The homer Red Wings fan in me says Henrik Zetterberg could be the token Swede.

In all, I’ll admit that they’re small nit-picks. The NHL took a great leap forward here, considering their previous advertising attempts. I’m happy to see that they are trying to improve and hope that they can keep it up.

Lidstrom, Datsyuk Claim Awards

Detroit Red Wings Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk were honored with NHL awards Thursday night, repeating as the winners of the James Norris Trophy and the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, respectively.

Lidstrom won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman for the fifth time, matching a feat accomplished by Ray Bourque. Only Bobby Orr (eight) and Doug Harvey (seven) have won it more times.

“Ray Bourque was a player that I looked up to,” Lidstrom said. “I really enjoyed watching him play. Being mentioned with names like Bobby Orr and Doug Harvey, it’s quite an honor.”

Datsyuk was awarded his second Lady Byng, given for gentlemanly play and sportsmanship.

Datsyuk was not present to accept the award. Detroit general manager Ken Holland did so on his behalf.

“He plays the game the right way,” Lidstrom said of Datsyuk. “He has fun out on the ice, and he exemplifies the sportsmanship (part of the trophy). He should be very proud.”

Pittsburgh Penguins’ sophomore Sidney Crosby took home the most hardware of anyone, claiming the Hart Memorial Trophy as league MVP and the Lester B. Pearson Award as the most outstanding player (as voted by the NHLPA) to go along with the Art Ross Trophy that he had already locked up by being the league’s leading scorer.

Crosby’s teammate, Evgeni Malkin, went home with the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year.

New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur claimed his third Vezina Trophy in the last four years as the league’s best goalie. Netminders Nicklas Backstrom and Manny Fernandez shared the William M. Jennings Trophy for the fewest goals against.

Rod Brind’Amour, captain of the Carolina Hurricanes, was named the league’s best defensive forward, repeating as the winner of the Frank J. Selke Trophy.

Alain Vigneault of the Vancouver Canucks was named the coach of the year, winning the Jack Adams Award.

Saku Koivu was awarded the King Clancy Award for humanitarian contribution to hockey.

Boston Bruins’ rookie Phil Kessel was given the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. Kessel was diagnosed with, treated for, and recovered from testicular cancer all in his first NHL campaign.

Tamapa Bay Lightning forward Vincent Lecavalier claimed the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal-scorer.

Lidstrom, Datsyuk Claim NHL Hardware

Two Detroit Red Wings claimed trophies at the 2006 NHL Awards Show on Thursday night. Defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom walked away with the James Norris Memorial Trophy while forward Pavel Datsyuk was given the Lady Byng Trophy.

Lidstrom earned the Norris Trophy – awarded to the league’s best defenseman – for the fourth time in five years. He has been nominated for the award seven of the last eight years. Leading the league’s defensemen in scoring, Lidstrom beat out Anaheim’s Scott Niedermayer, the 2004 winner, and Dallas’ Sergei Zubov.

Datsyuk’s 22 penalty minutes in 75 games played helped him edge out San Jose’s Patrick Marleau and Tampa Bay’s Brad Richards, who was awarded the trophy in 2004. He becomes the first Red Wing since Marcel Dionne in 1975 to win the Lady Byng Trophy, awarded for “sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

San Jose’s Joe Thornton and Jaromir Jagr of the New York Rangers split the MVP awards, with Thornton claiming the Hart Memorial Trophy and Jagr claiming the Lester B. Pearson Award.

Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie while Rod Brind’Amour of the Stanley Cup Champion Carolina Hurricanes was named the best defensive forward with the Frank J. Selke Trophy.

After a heated race, Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals beat out Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Calder Memorial Trophy, awarded to the rookie of the year.

Buffalo head coach was awarded the Jack Adams Award as the coach of the year.

Zetterberg Scores Twice as Red Wings Defeat Capitals

The Detroit Red Wings got two goals from Henrik Zetterberg and timely saves from Chris Osgood, leading them to a 4-3 victory over the Washington Capitals Friday night.

Zetterberg scored twice to pull Detroit into a tie with Washington.

With the Red Wings on the power play and 1:54 remaining in the first period, he scored to tie the game at one. Tomas Holmstrom stole the puck along the left wing boards in the Capitals’ zone and sent it to Zetterberg in the left circle. He cut into the slot and, as his passing lane to Pavel Datsyuk was cut off, wristed a shot past Washington goalie Olaf Kolzig.

He tied the game at two with a goal at 5:27 of the second while Detroit skated 5-on-3, knocking in the rebound of a long shot by Nicklas Lidstrom.

Rookie star Alexander Ovechkin opened the game’s scoring 5:23 into the first on a Washington power play. Jamie Heward fired a shot from the blue line that was kicked aside by Detroit netminder Chris Osgood. The rebound skipped past Bryan Muir and came to Ovechkin, who lifted it over the scrambling Osgood.

A shorthanded goal gave the Capitals their second lead of the game. At 2:54 of the second, Chris Clark beat Mathieu Schneider to a loose puck in the Detroit zone and sent it to a wide open Matt Pettinger in the slot, where he knocked it past Osgood.

After a non-goal by Washington – waved off by the referee as the goal light and horn went off – and a sprawling save on Ovechkin by Osgood, the Red Wings got their first lead of the game when Datsyuk scored at 4:01 of the third.

Datsyuk picked up a loose puck along the right wing boards and broke in on a 2-on-1 with Dan Cleary. Datsyuk jumped off the boards and cut into the slot, skating around the defenseman while moving in on Kolzig. The Washington goalie sprawled out and Datsyuk skated around him, putting the puck in the open net in a move similar to one that Ovechkin unsuccessfully tried earlier on Osgood.

Lidstrom added a fourth goal for the Wings late in the third, after they killed off a long 5-on-3 that saw the Capitals threaten to tie the game. With 2:53 remaining, he fired a shot from the slot that deflected in front of Kolzig for a power play goal.

The Capitals scored the game’s final goal with .4 seconds remaining on a long shot by Heward after the Wings defenders had quit on the play.

Osgood finished the game with 27 saves while Kolzig made 26. Both faced 30 shots.

Detroit went three-for-six on the power play and held Washington to only one goal on seven power play chances.

The Red Wings will be back in action on Monday when they host Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

It was announced during the game that Jiri Fischer and his doctors will hold a press conference at Joe Louis Arena on Monday at 4:00 PM. Fox Sports Net Detroit will broadcast live.

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