Well everyone, we did one of these for each of the first two round and it paid off. After missing the Eastern Conference Finals (along with the Carolina Hurricanes), Jesse Marshall at Faceoff-Factor invited me back to participate in one more roundtable.
This time, it’s Stanley Cup Finals style! …
We asked some of the best hockey minds in Pittsburgh to tell us their one key to victory for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Here’s what they came up with!
Our first response takes us to Tony Ferrante at The Confluence of the Three Rivers.
I really believe that it’s going to take a complete team effort to defeat the Wings. All facets of the Penguins game, including offense, defense, goaltending and special teams, are going to all be running smooth in order for the Penguins to hoist the Cup. I really think if any of those facets stumble, the Wings are just too damn good not to capitalize on them. First, the Pens defense must keep Holmstrom, Franzen and the rest from living in the crease. Sounds easier than it is, I understand. Also, MAF simply cannot be “steady”, he’s gotta be outstanding. Next, they’ve got to slow down the Wings’ transition game. They’ve gotta take advantage of the Wings’ woeful penalty kill. And last but not least, a continued offensive onslaught from Sid and Geno wouldn’t hurt, either.
Next response is from our good friends at ThePensblog.
For the Pens to further cement that this series isn’t going to be a joke, their forwards have reach a level of tenacity in the offensive zone the likes of which we haven’t seen in these playoffs. They need to be finishing every check that they can get their hands on. The only physical team — hell, the only TEAM Detroit has played in these playoffs has been Anaheim. The Ducks had a top scoring line, and then three secondary lines whose mission was to take the game to the Wings; to play physical. The Ducks hardly possess the offensive prowess the Pens have, so why were they able to take the Wings to seven games? A terrific defensive game plan, of course, but the forwards made life a living Hell for the Wings defensemen. If the Pens don’t possibly match up to the Ducks in the defensive department, they will make up for it by rolling three consistent scoring lines, as long as those lines bring a new physicality every shift.
Next is our friend Chris at Pittsburgh Puck Talk.
The way I see it, this is a much more confident group than the team that watched Detroit lift the Cup on the Mellon Arena’s ice June 4, 2008. I mean, look at Evgeni Malkin now compared to back then. He has already surpassed his goal and assist totals from the 2007-08 postseason with one more series to go — he exemplifies this team’s fortitude. From Game 2 of the ECF against Philthy to the end of the SCF against Detroit (10 games), Malkin registered just 2 goals and 3 assists. Going on the assumption that he won’t disappear like last year, I think the Pens have a good chance at winning this. Special teams should be huge in this series, and Malkin is a big factor in the equation that is the Pens power play. Pittsburgh has steadily improved with the man-advantage throughout the playoffs, now converting at a clip of 19.3%, while the Wings have consistently sputtered on the penalty kill. The most glaring statistic against the Wings is their inability to kill off penalties, shutting down opponents just 73.7% of the time. If the Pens can take advantage of that weakness and continue to throw pucks at the net they should have the advantage. Four of the six games in the Finals last year were one-goal games, a healthy and confident Malkin could have turned that series around.
Next, we visited with Hooks Orpik over at Pensburgh.
Make no mistakes about it: a fast start is going to be the Pittsburgh Penguins key to victory and best chance to de-throne the Detroit Red Wings. That the first three games will be played in four days is already an advantage for the younger Pens. That Detroit’s Norris and Hart trophy candidates are at less than 100% going into the series makes it even more important for Pittsburgh to jump out of the gates fast. We all know that as last season’s playoffs dragged on, Evgeni Malkin ran out of gas and faded; this year, however he’s seemingly growing stronger by the game. If Detroit uses Henrik Zetterberg again to shadow and check Sidney Crosby, will Pavel Datsyuk be able to keep up with Malkin? And with faceoff ace Kris Draper unlikely to play at least early in the series, will Crosby and Jordan Staal need to win more faceoffs? It’s hard for Detroit to play their brand of puck possession hockey if the Pens are winning the faceoffs and are attacking in their aggressive manor. A fast start won’t panic the Red Wings; after all they won two out of three games in Pittsburgh last year in the finals and they’ve proven they can win without Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom, going 2-0 in their absence. But as Dan Bylsma says “it’s a race to four”, and with a bunch of games crammed into the early part of the series, the opportunity is there to get on the fast track to the Stanley Cup.
Next up, Frank Murgia from Move The Needle moves our needle on his key factor.
The Penguins must avoid Niklas Kronwall – An Injury to ONE of the big three could amount to as much damage as all of the injuries that the wings have coming into game one. Niklas Kronwall is a monster hitter. We all have seen over and over this past week how Kronwall destroyed the Blackhawk’s star Martin Havlat. I will go on record that I am picking the Pens in 6 and in this order (W, L, W, W, L, W), so I think only an Injury to Malkin can stop the Pens from winning it all. I mentioned early in the post to avoid an injury to the big three, but I want to nail it down to Geno as the key guy we can’t lose. Malkin has proved over and over that he can take over a game; he can take over when Sid is hurt and out of action. Sid is not the scorer that Geno is. Sid can carry the puck, score and win games but not in a fierce, unstoppable rush to the net like Evgeni Malkin. I think there will be three overtime games and all games will be squeaky tight, but ultimately the Pens must avoid a bad injury to Evgeni Malkin to win it all.
Tecmo from PSAMP sent his entry over to us via the pony express. Get it? (Hey, we never said we were funny).
In my humble opinion, the key to the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals is the depth of each team. If you listen to the supposed “experts,” Detroit is a team of depth while the Pens are some kids named Geno and Sid along with some guys they picked up off the refuse pile. I mean, why the hell would we pick up Cup winners like Billy G, Kunitz and Tenk? Sid and Geno, along with the supposed depth we had last season, let us down in Games 1 and 2 with ZERO goals…so I’m looking at our depth to provide that secondary scoring early in the 2009 series. Oh, and I’m also hoping that MAF doesn’t fall on his face during the pre-series intros. That might even be a bigger key to this series than depth. Yeah, I change my key to MAF not falling down.
Next stop takes us to longtime roundtable participant Sean Leahy at Puck Daddy.
The Penguins need to do what they’ve been doing: fore-check aggressively and ride their two horses name Crosby and Malkin. They can’t let the abilities of the Red Wings take them off their game or force Pittsburgh to alter their game plan. Dan Bylsma is not Michel Therrien. When the Penguins went down 2-0 to the Capitals, he didn’t shuffle all four lines drastically. Bylsma believes in his players and the system he’s instilled. While the 2008 Penguins might have been more talented, the current roster is deeper and can match Detroit’s depth. It’s not going to be easy, but these Penguins have the experience to bring a third Cup back to the Steel City.
For our final guest entry, we visit with our friend Brian Metzer of Hockeybuzz.
This is not the same Pittsburgh Penguins team that was completely overwhelmed in the early stages of last season’s Stanley Cup Final by these Red Wings. This group has depth, confidence, superstars that are performing at the top of their game, secondary scoring, special teams that are heating up and a hot goaltender. They have been all business and realize that these opportunities do not come along every year and they are eager to cash this one in. The Penguins defensemen must limit the Red Wings net front presence. Keeping the crease clear for Marc Andre Fleury to do his job will be the first step to victory. Step two: Special teams. The Red Wings penalty kill is not great and the Penguins need to exploit that by scoring on the power play, while continuing to receive strong play from their own penalty kill. Step Three: secondary scoring. We have all seen what Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have done in these playoffs, but the team’s success in this final is dependant on getting strong contributions from the likes of Chris Kunitz, Bill Guerin, Jordan Staal and Ruslan Fedotenko, as the Red Wings will be shadowing Crosby and Malkin with their best defensive forwards. Master all of the above and the Penguins win this series in six games.
Finally, we couldn’t leave you without our own little synopsis. I’ve left this one up to Matt Bodenschatz.
If I had to choose just one aspect of the Penguins game that will be crucial to winning the Stanley Cup, it would be physicality. Detroit is an aging team, has several injured players, and is coming out of a grueling series against the Blackhawks with little rest. Horses, such as Thomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen, and Niklas Kronwall, will try to set the tone physically, but the young, heal thy Penguins need to make a preemptive strike. It’s a difficult task, but keeping Holmstrom and Franzen from wreaking havoc in front of the net will make life much easier for Marc-Andre Fleury. And, just as important, Chris Kunitz and Matt Cooke need to hit Kronwall and his fellow defenders hard and often to make them think twice before trying a hit reminiscent of the Martin Havlat charge. Of course, all of this physicality will mean nothing, though, if the Penguins are careless with their hits. Opportune hits will wear out the Red Wings, will aggrivate Red Wing injuries, and will create space for Fleury, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin to work their magic. That’s the winning formula.
Pittsburgh has spoken. All that’s left is for us to watch the games this weekend, root for our team, and hope for the best.
Chris | PPT