Gross Misconduct Hockey Thoughts from a drifter on the hockey landscape

06/13/2009

Game 7: Epic Series Goes To Pittsburgh – Penguins Win 2-1

Just watching this series, even while watching it with a stray eye from afar in Washington, was exhausting. For fans, for media, for bloggers, for everyone alike.

Just imagine how it is actually playing the games.

The Penguins showed in Game 7 that they did, in fact, want it more. They played harder and more aggressive for the better part of the game. They played smarter for the entire game and didn’t allow for Detroit to wheel and deal the way they like to.

Most importantly, and this was something I made it a point to say both last year and this, their third and fourth lines responded better than Detroit’s did, a point that was made emphatically in Game 7 by Maxime Talbot scoring both Pittsburgh goals. Talbot last year was the lone player on Pittsburgh’s third and fourth lines who proved to be a burr in the side of the Red Wings.

This year, Talbot solidified himself as a folk hero win or loss given how he handled himself against the Capitals and how he played smartly and selflessly throughout the playoffs. I know that the folks in Pittsburgh’s blogging circles will write folk songs and sing the praises of guys like Crosby, Fleury and Malkin but Talbot is the guy for whom much of Pens fans adulation and warm memories from here on out will be saved for.


Evgeni Malkin is the superstar you should get forced down your throat.
(Photo – AP)

In this go-round, Talbot had sustained help from Ruslan Fedotenko – a guy who already has Stanley Cup folk hero status for the last 25 Tampa Bay Lightning fans that haven’t been run off by the new owners there. Adding characters like Craig Adams and Fedotenko helped solidify the other lines for Pittsburgh helping younger players like Tyler Kennedy and Jordan Staal feel more at home working the grinder lines and realizing that by doing their job checking and defending you can still find a way to pot a goal or two.

Pieces like that are what the team was missing last year and they were able to capitalize best on playing the aggressive forecheck (you know, like I kept saying they ought to do) and put pressure on Detroit’s defense.

No, not Nick Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski – those guys you can’t exactly rattle. Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall however…

To this point in the playoffs, I had been singing the praises of Brad Stuart as his play through the first three rounds had been solid if not spectacular. In the Finals, however, Stuart’s efforts in Game 7 are what folks are going to be paying attention to. Stuart took a bad slashing penalty in the first period and had a brutal turnover and mis-timed moment to pinch in leading to both of Maxime Talbot’s goals.

Having that kind of résumé in an elimination game will often get a guy run out of town. For Stuart, it’s a Finals he’d like to forget as his play suffered. Whether that be from his own mistakes or for having to perpetually look out for Niklas Kronwall who would take himself out of plays looking to deliver a hit elsewhere or do too much on the puck it’s tough to say.

For all the advances that Kronwall seemed to make last season in his play after finally finding a way to remain healthy, I couldn’t help but find myself watching him to see how he would handle himself and his positioning. A lot of the time he’s solid, but there’s enough brain farting going on that teams were finding ways to expose him.

I hammered on a lot of this after Game 3 of this series and his +/- rating didn’t change after Game 3. In Games 4 and 5 he pulled in a +1 rating and in Game 6 he was even.

Yeah, you guessed it, he was a -2 in Game 7 along with Brad Stuart. Game 7 saw plenty of reckless play from the two of them and if anything that -2 was well earned on their part. The poor unfortunate guy that had to deal with all that was Chris Osgood who truly played stellar all throughout this series and the playoffs.

For Pittsburgh though, Conn Smythe Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin was the story from beginning to end.

Enough about Crosby and him captaining the team to the win – I’m done with that. Good for him for winning but it’s not because of him they were able to beat Detroit. Not in Game 7 and not in the rest of the series. He’s the guy you’re going to get forced down your throats from now until Lord knows when, but it’s got to be eating him up how much more sound the Penguins play when he’s not around. Malkin carried this team last year while Crosby was out with an injury and he carried the team again in Game 7 when Crosby left with an injury in the second period after taking a hit from Johan Franzen.

This was Malkin’s baby from the start of the playoffs and he earned it. Worst of all? Fans in North America aren’t going to hear enough about him because he’s Russian and speaks poor English and the NHL can’t wrap their head around marketing players that don’t come from North America.

Amazing, isn’t it? I’ve got a full-blown man-crush on the Hart Trophy candidates this year (Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Malkin) but the league can’t do anything with them. This is why if you too are a Twitter user you should be following Dmitry Chesnokov, one of the contributors at Yahoo’s Puck Daddy.

He’s Russian and gets all the juicy interviews with the Russian stars and gets the personality out of them that the NHL is too ignorant or lazy to try for and hey, guess what, Russian players aren’t the robots you see elsewhere around the league.

Look at it this way, when your favorite Russian player is giving a poorly-worded interview in English, that guy is a regular Jeremy Roenick or Brett Hull when interviewed in Russian.

It’s so frustrating to see such marketing ability available here and no one putting it to use it’s even managed to derail my Stanley Cup wrap up.

I know a lot is going to get made about how Herr Bettman’s wet dream finally came true here, and it did let’s not think differently, but what we’ve got here is a damn spanking nice little cross-conference rivalry teeming over with superstars. Canadians, Russians, Swedes, Finns and Slovaks all over the place.

Sets the stage pretty nicely for Vancouver in 2010 now, doesn’t it?

Don’t worry, training camps open in three months and the NHL Draft is two weeks away with the Free Agency window opening soon after that.

The off-season begins now.

06/12/2009

How (Not) To Prepare For A Game 7

A lot of you may be stressing the hell out today because your team is playing in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals tonight.

Others of you may have hitched a ride with a team for the Finals after having yours bumped off along the way either before or during the playoffs. It’s OK, I’m not here to rat you out or tell the others in your fanbase that you may have given up the team colors in favor of the “prettier” horse that came along.

That’s not my job to rat you out and besides, you’ve got to live with yourself anyhow. Enjoy the anguish of living a lie should that be your course of action.

What I’m here to do is try to share with you what it is to live in the hell of having the next game be your last, when you’re that close to taking home the prize that your team is dying to reach. I’m here to tell you that if you want to live life as a hockey fan in a brilliant kind of tortured hell there’s one thing you have to do:

Become a college hockey fan.

I’m not joking and hell, if you want examples of that already, take a look at the stories from my Back To School tour of excellence back in March and April.

OK so you don’t want to check it out, fine. Here’s what the teams in tonight’s final have to look forward to (click to enlarge):

Thrill of Victory:

Agony of Defeat:

Those are shots from the conclusion of this year’s National Championship game that saw Boston University defeat Miami University in overtime. Yeah, ouch.

Pretty simple, I know, but seeing it is another thing entirely and let’s face it, Penguins fans have tasted defeat in the Finals once, just last year. Detroit fans, at least the more modern variety, got a piece of it back in 1995 at the hands of Jacques Lemaire’s ruiners of 1990s hockey, the New Jersey Devils.

I can tell you first hand, however, that living and dying by your team is mentally and physically exhausting and having a hand in it with the college team of your upbringing or graduation can make even the most even-keeled of folks become raving lunatics.

For me, my roots are based in Division III college hockey, graduating from Oswego State in 2002. Working games from the press box while in college doesn’t allow you to fully give into your fandom, after all, there’s no cheerleading in the press box.

In 2003, Oswego State reached the Frozen Four for Division III and you better believe I was there with friends to witness this in Northfield, Vermont. Oswego was the newcomer to the party in dealing with local favorites Norwich and Middlebury (both in Vermont) as well as St. Norbert’s College from Green Bay, Wisconsin. Oswego drew Middlebury in the semifinals and trounced them “surprisingly” 6-0 and met the hosts from Norwich in the Finals.

There’s no more nervewracking of a setting than being there in person, on hostile ground no-less, hoping to see your team win the big prize. That afternoon we would leave Kreitzberg Arena to the sounds of the place going bonkers as the Cadets would beat the Lakers 2-1. A long, humbled and quiet car ride would follow as we headed back to the Albany area.

Four years later, Oswego would be back in the NCAA tournament and would open up at home against Norwich and exact a revenge of sorts for the 2003 loss beating the Cadets 3-0, this time on Oswego’s home ice. A date in the Frozen Four was set again, this time in Superior, Wisconsin.

There would be no road trip, there would be only reliance on the Internet broadcast of the semifinals against St. Norbert’s and then praying they win that so I could watch them on CSTV in the Finals.

This is where I leave things off to our media successors at Oswego State campus TV WTOP-10 to show you how this played out. I can tell you this right now, every time I watch this my adrenaline races and I break out into a cold sweat.


(ed. note: YouTube is being a bit buggy lately so be patient and come on back again to see the video.)

Full disclosure:

After Garren Reisweber scored that OVERTIME GAME-WINNING GOAL, I leapt out of the chair, did a lap around the house, then ran outside leaping into the snowbanks via backflip.

I’ve never done a backflip before, and I’ve never dared try one since but it’s true, adrenaline can make you do super-human things.

That said, your team is on the road looking for their first championship and the road to get there goes through overtime in the semifinals and in the finals, it’s a wonder myself or any other Oswego State hockey alum survived.

But I did and I’m alive to pass this on to those of you who will be locked down into Game 7 tonight to let you know that win or lose, you’re still going to be there to fight again.

Neither Detroit nor Pittsburgh are going anywhere bad after this season. Folks want to write the Red Wings off and say that their demise is imminent.

It’s not.

Pittsburgh has already proven that they’ll be able to stick around by making it back again this year, especially after dropping their dead-weight of an albatross named Michel Therrien.

If your team loses, yeah it’s going to sting like a son of a bitch and it’s going to eat you up for a while. You probably won’t want to look at anything hockey for some time after that and you can’t be blamed for it.

But if you come back from it and you hunger for more and you develop that war wound with your team, and believe me losing in a game where it’s all or nothing is a cannon blast to the midsection in the Civil War, the reward is worth the wait.

Game 7 wins and losses weed out who belongs and who doesn’t and if for some sick psychotic reason you want to give yourself a better chance at experiencing this sensation of living on the brink with a team you know and love and adore… Sign up for college hockey. Pick a team and go along for the ride.

If you went to college that has a team, even better, you’re already in the family. All you have to do then is start caring about them. Don’t have a team yet? Snoop around, adopt one, adopt a local team if you’ve got one. Remember though, you’re adopting them not to half-ass your attention to them you want to accept them into your life because you’re a maniacal hockey fan and you seek more and you have wanton disregard for your sanity.

Detroit fans I probably don’t have to tell about college hockey given that Michigan alone has University of Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan, Western Michigan, Ferris State, and Lake Superior State all contained within their borders.

Joe Louis Arena plays host to the annual Great Lakes Invitational pitting Michigan, MSU and Michigan Tech against a fourth team to be named later. RPI joins them this upcoming season. Yes, consider that foreshadowing for what may come in December.

For Pittsburgh fans and those of you actually in the Iron City or close by, you’ve got a couple of teams within reach of you: Robert Morris University and Mercyhurst College. Robert Morris plays in Pittsburgh itself while Mercyhurst is located to the north in Erie. There is a bonus to becoming a Mercyhurst supporter though:


Mercyhurst Lakers goalie Matt Lundin shows off Whalers-colored glory.

Your team wears the colors of the Hartford Whalers. I can see no other reason than that to want to become a fan of Mercyhurst. If you’re into the women’s college hockey scene, Mercyhurst’s squad is one of the better ones in the country. Double your pleasure Pennsylvania.

I know that this post offers in no way any kind of comfort or solace for those looking to find a way to get through tonight’s game and I’m only serving to be more of an enabler of further stress, hair loss, anxiety and short fuses but I just want you all to be able to join me in that club.

Some say “misery loves company” but in this case it’s more like the asylum seeks more patients.

You’re hockey fans after all, be proud of your insanity.

06/04/2009

Going On A Holiday

Filed under: Detroit Red Wings,Pittsburgh Penguins,Stanley Cup Finals — Joe Yerdon @ 12:55 PM

I know that sometimes trips are really often poorly timed and, well, you could say that this is one of those times as I’m headed to Washington, D.C. for the weekend and will NOT be recapping Games 4 and 5 while I’m there because, honestly, who knows if I’ll even get to see them.

No, that’s not a dig at Versus for not being in a hotel there – I’m not even staying in a hotel.

So to commemorate this occasion, I was going to play you the video from Mr. Show with the stars of the show singing “Going On A Holiday” but that’s lame and it sucks. So instead if you’d like to complain about me dumping out on recapping the game, I want all complaints to be like this:

Good luck keeping up with that! See you next week.

06/03/2009

Game 3: It’s Just Getting Creepy Now – Pittsburgh Wins 4-2

Filed under: Detroit Red Wings,Pittsburgh Penguins,Stanley Cup Finals — Joe Yerdon @ 12:49 PM

I should really just re-print my game recaps from last year and see if anyone bothers to fact check me at this point.

Just picking up and running with this acid flashback kind of thing for this series turned out to be the right thing to do since, just like last year, the Penguins pulled off a Game 3 victory.

In this version, a crazy up and down first period with two goals for each team lead to a Detroit-dominated and defensively locked down second period which saw Detroit get its opportunities to take the lead and then turn into a third period where Pittsburgh turned up the pressure and get the lead and the victory on the power play.

Once again, however, officiating is at the forefront of the discussion after an obvious too many men on the ice call was missed in the first period. Shortly after that, Detroit was booked for a penalty which lead to a Pittsburgh power play goal to tie the game at two. Even the guys in the NBC booth were going bonkers over the call.

All the officiating faux pas aside, Abel to Yzerman made it plain as day what the chink in the armor of the Red Wings is:

The Penalty Kill is this family’s dirty secret. The Kill is the clepto dad, the dirty sister who hands it out like candy at Christmas, the mom who got a DUI last week, pulled over and arrested in the middle of the day. Our penalty kill is a problem like that. It’s not going to just go away without treatment. And, left to its own devices, it’s going to humiliate us all at the worst possible moment.

The truth hurts. In short-handed situations there’s something drastically different about how the Red Wings go about business. The pressure on the point men isn’t there, defensive positioning is certainly off, hell, look where Niklas Kronwall is standing on this goal:

Pretty tough to help your goaltender when you’re screening him. Then again, Niklas Kronwall is a bit of a dirty secret for Detroit as it is anyhow. Kronwall is currently a +4 on defense in the playoffs. Not bad, sure, but how does he stack up with his teammates?

  1. Nick Lidstrom: +10
  2. Brian Rafalski: +10
  3. Jonathan Ericsson: + 10
  4. Brett Lebda: +9
  5. Brad Stuart: +7

Brad Stuart has been a stud throughout these playoffs so why are his numbers a bit off from the rest? Look no further than his defensive partner Kronwall.

Yeah, I know, he makes the big hits and makes the highlight reels and all that fun stuff but positionally he’s a bit off and already in this series we’ve seen him make a misplay that leads to a Evgeni Malkin breakaway.

You think this is something Dan Bylsma and the Penguins staff haven’t taken note of? You bet they have and they know that Stuart is playing out of his mind and doing even more to help/cover up for Kronwall’s mistakes.

How does this translate out in Game 4 though? Who knows. At this point, why even try to deviate from how things shook out from last year. Detroit has shown an uncanny ability to rebound from losses and make corrections in their game to make sure these problems don’t come up again.

Pittsburgh is going to need to bring the thunder like they did for the third period last night all game long. Another period like their second period last night where Detroit controls play and gets the chances they did will not turn out well for the Penguins. Then again, perhaps the Penguins had a bit of hockey karma coming their way after some of the bad-break-bounces they suffered in Game 1 and that’s why you see Mikael Samuelsson rip a couple of shots off the post.

Then again, I could say that unicorns will stampede the ice and leprechauns will take over and control Game 4.

Wait, nevermind, a leprechaun already runs the NHL.


The scariest and dumbest of all Leprechauns.

06/01/2009

Game 2: Department of Redundancy Department – Detroit Wins 3-1

Stop me if you heard this one before.

Detroit beats Pittsburgh 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Me breaking out Yogi Berra is apparently rubbing off in a big way because not only are Detroit and Pittsburgh in the Finals for the second straight year, but now the Red Wings have come out on top of the Penguins by identical 3-1 to scores in each game this year and are once again ahead in the Finals 2-0… Just like they were last year.

Invoking more of the acid flashbacks to last year was Valtteri Filppula who scored the game-winning goal in tonight’s Game 2 in a play that’s come under some major scrutiny from at least one very famous Penguins blog. Have a look for yourself and see what you think, highlights from NBC:

The contention from the Penguins loyalists comes from the stick-work from, who else, Marian Hossa. On the play you see Pens forward Pascal Dupuis try to maneuver away while be harassed by Hossa. Hossa lifts the stick, he stick checks him all while Dupuis’ stick breaks in his hands. I’ll admit, his reaction to having the composite lumber fall apart in his hands had me fooled but after the replay… Well, that’s just crappy luck.

What stuck out to me here is that Dupuis instantly tried to sell a call and stopped playing. Now, I know selling a call is all part of the game… You don’t stop skating to yell though. Dupuis realizes a couple seconds too late that he has to keep playing and by that time, Detroit is at the half-boards and firing away and then the scrum ensues leading to Filppula’s insane backhand goal.

After all that, however, that goal wasn’t the backbreaker. Filppula’s goal made the score 2-1 but a familiar face from Game 1 was going to notch his second goal of the series and coincidentally enough it would again be the goal to make the game 3-1. The fresh-off-the-TV video from NBC:

From that point on in the third period, the Penguins were toast and it showed for the better part of the next ten minutes of play as Detroit toyed with and puck-controlled for that time. Puck control was a huge issue for Detroit in the first 30 minutes of this one as they found themselves uncharacteristically turning it over and dumping and chasing rather than staying back and patient.

Give the Penguins a lot of credit here as their forecheck forced the issue on Detroit but the Red Wings seem to always find a way to bend and not break and to resist the waves of pressure.

The one glaring issue with the series to this point, however, is the difference between the defensemen of these teams. It’s already unfair to have the Red Wings roll out there with Nick Lidstrom, Brad Stuart, Brian Rafalski and Nick Kronwall. Adding 6’5″ former NHL Draft Mr. Irrelevant Jonathan Ericsson to the mix and having him produce (he scored Detroit’s first goal tonight) and help out on the special teams with seamless effectiveness turns the tide even more in favor of Detroit.


Penguins defenseman Hal Gill in his natural state.

Pittsburgh’s extreme lack of solid play on the blue line is becoming more noticeable and bigger efforts in shutting down Detroit’s third and fourth lines, never mind the top two lines, are needed out of guys like Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill who have looked beyond abysmal through two games.

Scuderi was a -1 and Gill a -2 in Game 2 and Gill, while a solid shot blocker and space-taker-upper, is slow and prone to grabbing and holding out there something for which he should be fortunate the officials are letting go. So far through the first two games, Scuderi is -3 while Gill is a -4.

Not good.

Topping off the amazing coincidental party was how a game that was virtually decided managed to have some shenanigans break loose involving one of Pittsburgh’s super-duper-mega stars. Tonight, it was Evgeni Malkin’s turn to embarrass the Penguins as he instigated a fight with Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg after a fracas near the Detroit net, sparked by Maxime Talbot spearing goaltender Chris Osgood into flopping like Vlade Divac. Take a look:

Now, really, this whole Déjà vu thing takes a life of its own in this situation if you’ll think back to last year’s Game 2 and what occurred that night:

OK a questionable hit from a Penguins player leads to Osgood hitting the ice and then we’re playing the feud where Evgeni Malkin gets made to look really bad against someone from Sweden. Last year it’s Johan Franzen and this year it’s Zetterberg.

I really don’t know how this can play out any more similar than it has already.

The one “issue” that came up out of tonight’s schoolyard horsing around was that Malkin was booked for instigating a fight in the final five minutes of a game, something that according to the NHL Rule Book leads to an automatic one-game suspension.

Of course, if you believed the league was going to stick by that rule in the playoffs, you’re crazy as less than an hour after the game, Colin Campbell didn’t even bother to spin his Wheel of Justice and said that there would be no suspension for Malkin.

The one stark difference between this year and last year in spite of the results is the professionalism coming from Pittsburgh’s locker room, namely from head coach Dan Bylsma. While guys like Crosby and Malkin are busy running around like idiots and Maxime Talbot is too busy mouthing off at Marian Hossa or jabbing at Chris Osgood, Bylsma keeps his head held high and offers no excuses and points no fingers.

Imagine the explosion if Michel Therrien were in charge this year? Ye gods.

Here’s a look at Bylsma’s comments in the post-game press conference from tonight:

Q. Did you see the Hossa hook-slash on Dupuis before the second goal, and if so, what did you make of the whole sequence?

COACH BYLSMA: I think the way I saw the replay that our guy was trying to get the puck out. Hossa came in and used his stick to lift up their guy’s stick. You can make the judgment. The referee made the judgment that it wasn’t a hook.

I can slow it down and look at it myself and make my own judgment, but that was what happened. We failed to clear it with that hook and it led to the goal.

Pretty calm and collected there and it’s that kind of thing this Penguins team needs in that locker room so they don’t lose their heads and run around like idiots. Too bad Dan Bylsma wasn’t with this team last year.

Compare that to what Michel Therrien was ranting about after last year’s Game 2 loss:


It’s really tough to generate offense against that team. They’re good on
obstruction. It’s going to be tough to generate any type of offense, if the
rules remain the same. So it’s the first time we’re facing a team that the
obstruction is there, and we’re having a hard time skating to take away ice.

We took two penalties tonight on the goalie. We never take penalty to
the goalie in the playoff. I’ll tell you something, I reviewed those plays.
He’s a good actor. He goes to players, and he’s diving. Took away our power
play. Got to get focused. I know our players are frustrated right now. It’s
tough to play the game. But Osgood did the same thing against Dallas under
Ribeiro.

It’s like night and day.

Should the “history repeating itself” theme continue, Pittsburgh will take Game 3 and get talk of this being a series once again started in earnest. That said, if Detroit gets Pavel Datsyuk and/or Kris Draper back in the lineup on Tuesday life gets even more difficult for the Penguins because right now, they’re having a very hard time keeping up with the Red Wings AHL Invasion Unit of Justin Abdelkader, Ville Leino and Darren Helm. Adding in an MVP Candidate and a defensive face-off wizard only makes the Penguins hill to climb even more treacherous.

05/31/2009

Game 1: House of Bounce – Detroit Wins 3-1

Tell me you predicted this would happen.

OK sure, you may have predicted Detroit would win the game. That’s possible.

Did you predict that Sidney Crosby would be held off the scoresheet?

Did you predict that there wouldn’t be a true highlight goal scored?

Did you predict that the one goal that would be the highlight goal would be scored by Justin Abdelkader?

What you can’t see there is Abdelkader smacking the puck out of mid-air and floating it into the upper corner to put Detroit ahead 3-1.

As for the other goals scored in this game, well, the Joe Louis gremlins were in full effect and the Hockey Gods enlisted a Hanna-Barbera least-favorite to lend a hand in scoring tonight:


Don’t know this guy? Yeah, we’re not surprised.

That’s right, it’s Ricochet Rabbit.

You don’t know him? That’s OK, he’s not worth looking up on YouTube or trying to find him on Cartoon Network – he sucks. Given what went down this evening with Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury we’re sure he feels the same way.

Check out the two other goals he allowed this evening:

I know the best way to sum that up is, “Shit happens” but yeah – ouch.


How Marc-Andre Fleury felt in Game 1 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals.

That said, as bad as Marc-Andre Fleury had it, Chris Osgood had it going the other way for the Red Wings in stopping 31 of 32 shots and while a bit shaky early on in controlling rebounds, one leading to Ruslan Fedotenko’s seventh goal of the playoffs, Osgood was a rock.

What’s turning out to be one of the crazier phenomenons of the NHL Playoffs is that the more folks seem to discount the work of Chris Osgood, the better he gets. From the second he set foot on the ice in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals as a desperate replacement for the struggling Dominik Hasek, Osgood has been a playoff freakshow.

His efforts in Game 1 brought his playoff goals against average this year to 2.00, second only to Tim Thomas of the Bruins. His save percentage sits at a lofty .928 yet some folks out there more than happy to discount whatever he brings to the table.

But see, now’s the time when I act like a dick and trample all over what I just wrote about him and say: You just never know with Osgood though.

Old memories fade slowly and while you’d like to think the visions of Osgood leading both the 1998 and 2008 Detroit Red Wings to Stanley Cup titles would be the lasting vision of him… The ugly goals and previous poor performances out of both Osgood and some past Red Wings teams tarnish his now incredibly sick and lofty NHL legacy.

Chris Osgood through all this remains the NHL version of Rodney Dangerfield. If he keeps up with the tremendous output and numbers and wins… He’s the benefit of a great defense. If he gives up a few and Detroit loses in rough ways, it’s “typical” Osgood and he has to do better than that for Detroit to win.


No respect I tell ya! No respect at all!

For all that talk about having the great defense in front of him, Chris Osgood sure is facing a good amount of shots. After Game 1, Osgood has faced an average of close to 29 shots per game (28.5+ for those wanting more accuracy). Obviously he’s not having boring games in goal and his 2.00 GAA proves that he’s been on top of his game.

Of course, if he goes the way of Cam Ward and melts down completely all this talk is moot and Osgood will probably never shake off the, “You’re not good enough” demons for the rest of his career and eventual heated debate on whether or not he’s a Hall of Fame goaltender.

After all of that, however, it wouldn’t be an official Penguins game if Sidney Crosby didn’t get involved in some way. This time it came after the final horn:

Ah jeez. Now, honestly, what is the point of doing that? According to Sidney Crosby, well… You figure it out:


“Yeah, Kirk, he was doing what he always does. Giving guys lip service and things like that. I two-handed him I think on top of the foot there as we were skating by. He felt it was necessary for him to keep talking after the game, and I thought I’d whack him.”

Yeah, I don’t understand it either.

Signs of early frustration from Crosby? No, that’s dumb so punch yourself in the yambag if you think that’s the case.

Trying to bait Kirk Maltby and the Red Wings into doing something stupid to go running around after him in Game 2?

Well… Crosby can’t be that naive to think that that would actually work. Detroit has already gone through two teams that are both a lot better at that sort of thing and a lot more nasty about it (Anaheim and Chicago) than Crosby thinks he is being in this case and Kirk Maltby running his mouth and getting that kind of reaction out of Crosby means that he’s doing his job well.

The storylines for Game 2 are going to be about whether or not Maltby and the Red Wings respond to Crosby’s petulance (they certainly won’t go out of their way to do it) and whether or not Crosby can give his team a lift and a split before the series turns to Pittsburgh.

Both teams played this game very well and for all intents and purposes it was a very even game. Some folks will be critical of the officiating both ways and there were certainly a lot of non-calls but the key here is that the flow and pace of the game was not affected by it. It didn’t become a slow, plodding, slug-it-out sort of game with both teams playing dump and chase all night and if that sort of thing can continue throughout the playoffs and matters stay consistent the series will stay entertaining to watch.

With the quick turnaround for Game 2, this will provide a good test for both teams fitness level because neither one is going to want to head to Pittsburgh gasping for air.

05/29/2009

A Stanley Cup Preview – The Prophecy Revealed?

Filed under: Detroit Red Wings,Pittsburgh Penguins,Stanley Cup Finals — Joe Yerdon @ 4:26 PM


“It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Simple brilliance plays its way out all the time it seems and the Stanley Cup Finals this year are no different, especially since it involves the same two teams we saw there last year.

Detroit and Pittsburgh: Let’s dance again.

When I wrote my preview on last year’s Finals, I surprised myself with how tuned in I was. To make a long story short, I shocked myself with how I was able to sound more competent than a CBC Color Analyst.

Obviously I watched a lot of hockey.

One of the things I said last year about the Finals seemed to come through in how the Pittsburgh Penguins played this entire postseason and it’s how they have to approach the Red Wings this year as well. Last year, Michel Therrien was too stubborn and too foolish and too immature to implement a plan of attack that took it to the Red Wings and he ignored this sage advice from the relatively unknown blogger who calls himself Hockey Joe:

Pittsburgh’s plan of attack here has to be to push, pressure and force the issue. Make Detroit get back on their heels and defend, to throw the puck at the net and keep control of it themselves. If Pittsburgh does indeed decide to pile into their zone defensively and rely on blocking shots and trying to stop Detroit at the blueline…they’re going to spend a lot of time waiting for Detroit to just give up the puck to them on a dump in or turnover.

Pretty brilliant stuff there, right?

This year’s version of the Penguins, at least the ones coached by Dan Bylsma anyhow, have shown that they’ll attack and forecheck and pressure the living hell out of the other team and force them to make bad passes and turn it over.

Well how about that?

Then again, I like to pat myself on the back as it is anyhow with regard to the Penguins because the Pens have shown that they’re begrudgingly listening to me from afar as it is anyhow.

Again, a flashback to something I wrote last year after just Game 4 of the Finals:

It’s tough to say that you want to run a guy out of town after he takes his team to the Stanley Cup Finals, but these finals have shown me that Michel Therrien is the absolute wrong guy to take the Pittsburgh Penguins into the future. He’s certainly not Glen Sather, who in the same position with a similarly young and talented team in the early 1980s, was able to take his lumps against the New York Islanders and use that as a building block to take the league over. I don’t recall ever seeing Glen Sather hitting the press and setting a bad example for Gretzky and Messier and Kurri.

Given what Michel Therrien has shown here, he can only lead this young bunch to more bad habits. There are some good coaches out there waiting to be hired right now that would suit this team a lot better. It might behoove the Penguins to make a move once the series is over and should the Penguins, indeed, lose out to get Therrien out of there and get someone who can mold this team better for the future.

On February 15th, 2009 Michel Therrien was mercifully fired by the Penguins. Not-so coincidentally enough, the Penguins got their collective heads out of their ass and steamed their way back into the playoff picture and now they’re in the Stanley Cup Finals after disposing of a gassed and punchless Carolina Hurricanes team.

So what did we learn here? We learned that I’m an idiot savant and master of the obvious. We also learned that ONE YEAR AGO I was using the already-tired comparison of the current Penguins squad to the 1980s Edmonton Oilers.

Then again, it doesn’t help that the Oilers in the 80s got smacked around by the Islanders in 1983 and then bitch-slapped an old and on-the-way-out Islanders team in 1984 to win the Stanley Cup. I feel I have to be the guy to put this nonsense comparison to rest.

The Islanders after 1984 have been irrelevant to the NHL outside of a few stunning and spectacular finishes in the playoffs, but they never made it back to the Finals after that drubbing at the hands of Gretzky and Messier and Kurri and all the other Hall of Famers on that team. The Oilers, of course, moved on to be a powerhouse for the rest of the decade until Peter Pocklington needed money and Wayne Gretzky got too big for the City of Edmonton.

These Penguins are set for a while with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal. Coincidentally enough, these Red Wings while some of the parts are old (Nicklas Lidstrom, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Chris Osgood… I guess) this isn’t a team that’s going anywhere.


Andrew Divoff, the Wishmaster, says: Fulfill the prophecy.

Should Detroit lose to Pittsburgh and fulfill the Gretzky Prophecy, these Red Wings won’t fade into oblivion, they’ll be back again and again and again as long as Mike Babcock is behind the bench. I’m not going to prattle on about the depth of Detroit, that’s been shown off enough already in Game 4 and 5 against Chicago.

No Lidstrom and no Datsyuk? Meh, no problem.

As for this Final… Good luck breaking it down because there’s a lot going on here that doesn’t point to any definitive answers.

What do I know? Crosby and Malkin look a lot better and are teeming over in confidence, a lot more so than last year. Are they as dangerous offensively? Sure they are… As long as they follow the guidelines I told them to follow last year – which means not changing a damn thing from what they’ve been doing in the playoffs so far.

The Penguins have stayed healthy most of the playoffs and the one guy who may still be iffy out there is power play guru Sergei Gonchar whose knee hasn’t been the same since having it knocked around by Alex Ovechkin in the second round.


Christopher Walken in “The Prophecy”: I thought prophecies were my thing. I mean, jeez. Come on!

As for Detroit, a lot of the attention on them is on injuries. After all, Nick Lidstrom missed the last two games against Chicago with a mysterious “lower body injury” rumored to be a problem with his ankle. Pavel Datsyuk has been out with the same “lower body injury” since after Game 2 against Chicago, of which no one can really guess what the deal is although rumors of a broken foot have swirled.

Kris Draper has missed time with a groin problem although his replacement in the lineup, Darren Helm, seems to be doing all right for himself and had his definitive game of the playoffs to this point in Game 5 doing a masterful job killing a penalty and scoring the game-winning goal in overtime to vanquish the Blackhawks.

I can’t help it, I’m a sucker for the Keyboard Cat.

The reason why I say it’s tough for me to gauge just how well Pittsburgh is doing is because the Eastern Conference has been a joke all year and that really showed through in the playoffs.

No, the Penguins aren’t a joke – settle down. The Penguins (along with the Bruins) were the two teams I was banking on to find a spot in the Finals. Everyone else? Flawed beyond belief. Flyers, Capitals, Devils, Rangers… flaws everywhere. Boston getting bounced by a hot Carolina team (and they were red hot coming into the playoffs) was about as shocking a result as you could ask for in these playoffs. The Hurricanes having to go through brutally tough defensive teams with a penchant for falling asleep offensively like the Devils and Bruins drained them and the fact that they were able to make their way to the Conference Finals blows my mind. There’s no reason why they beat the Devils and it’s unreal that they beat the Bruins.

Cam Ward should get a medal of honor for his work having a bum squad of defensemen playing in front of him like Joni Pitkanen, Denis Seidenberg, Anton Babchuk, Niclas Wallin, the mentally fragile Joe Corvo, Tim Gleason, Frank Kaberle.

Really, who the hell are these guys? Whoever they are, they couldn’t handle Pittsburgh and Cam Ward only had so many horseshoes up his ass to sustain the ‘Canes.

What I do know about Pittsburgh is that they’re immensely talented and can score in bunches but are they the dominating buzzsaw we watched in the latter stages of the series with Washington and all throughout the Carolina series?

Can’t answer that without making myself into some jerk, so I won’t bother.

A lot of folks want to harp on the goaltending for these teams and frankly any fair praise and criticism lobbed at either guy is earned and fair. Many folks are waiting for the “real” Chris Osgood to show up, same goes for Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury got through his potential buzzsaw series with the Capitals and Osgood got through his nightmare with Anaheim.

I’d like to say I’d be shocked if I saw Osgood or Fleury get lit up in the Finals… But I can’t in good faith say that. If either or both goaltenders fell off the wagon in this series I would be confident in saying, “Yeah, you could see that coming.”

Them’s the breaks but anyone looking to cite the regular season performance and trying to apply that to how these guys have done in the playoffs so far is an idiot, a jerk or both. Apples and oranges there kids and it makes me wonder what the hell the deal is with Detroit and I can’t help but feel we’re getting played by Mike Babcock.

The Wings for the better part of the regular season played sloppy, made folks buy into the talk of a Stanley Cup hangover and Osgood was often outplayed by backup Ty Conklin this season. They were defensively sloppy, Osgood looked lost more often than not and the team would seemingly take two out of three periods off in a game only to turn it on to show that they can still do it.

The playoffs start and Detroit has to deal with a Columbus team that gave them fits all year long and then promptly mops the floor with them in four straight.

Wha… What happened?

They draw Anaheim and predictably struggle with a team that rolls rough and tumble with the best of them and Detroit even manages to get through some suspect rulings and find their way into the Conference Finals against the new up and comers of the NHL and the feel-good story for the Original Sixers in Chicago and manages to get through them seemingly easily in five games.

What’s at play here? I think Babcock and the Red Wings have been giving everyone the Milton Berle treatment. Yes, that’s right, I’m going to give credit to Bill Simmons here. What’s the Milton Berle treatment? From Simmons:


In case you didn’t know, Berle was famous in Hollywood circles for being more endowed than anyone else. Basically, he was the Dirk Diggler of Hollywood. (Note: There’s a hysterical anecdote in the SNL book “Live From New York” about this. Highest of high comedy.) Anyway, the famous story about Berle (maybe an urban legend, maybe not) was that somebody challenged him to a “who’s bigger?” contest once, and Berle soundly defeated the guy, then bragged to someone else in the room, “I only pulled out enough to win.”

I don’t 100% believe that’s what the Red Wings have been doing all season, but the final two games with Chicago showed me something that Mike Babcock has been in his own way trying to keep a lid on and that is how sickeningly deep and talented this team is. The regular season for all NHL teams is an unending grind filled with unlimitless potholes and boredom. The playoffs is what it’s all about and for teams like Detroit where they’re playing 82 games just to get to the real show… Well, why open the bag of tricks right from the get-go so everyone knows how to prepare for your team?

Just ask the Sharks about how that worked out for them.

Add in the new mysteries here in the playoffs with Lidstrom’s injury (which I’m not buying for a second) and Datsyuk’s injury (which I do sort-of believe to be mostly true) and the whole thing stinks to me of Babcock only breaking out just enough to win.

After all, when your team dismantles the opponent 6-1 in a game where Lidstrom is out, why suit him up again and risk injury when everyone had everything sealed up nicely without him? Why not rest him up for what could be a short turnaround to Game 1 of the Finals if you win Game 5. Worked out well this time I’d say.

Kris Draper goes down with the same groin injury he had previously and Darren Helm and his fresh legs and speed to burn get to jump in the lineup without controversy? Sounds pretty ideal to me.

Same thing with the talk of Osgood being “dehydrated” during that 6-1 flogging and not playing the third. I don’t buy into that for a second, but Mike Babcock will feed that to all the beat reporters and they’ll all report it as fact meanwhile he’s back in the office laughing at them knowing full-well that he wasn’t going to leave his main man in a game where the other team is skating around like a bunch of angry kids and you don’t know what they’ll do next. Why risk a needlessly stupid injury at the hands of guys that could give a crap about your players in that kind of hornets nest – just sit him out for the third period and get him ready 20 minutes sooner for Game 5.

Will they need all hands on deck to make sure Pittsburgh doesn’t run wild like Macho Man Savage on Detroit? Absolutely, although I don’t think Babcock is terrified of the Penguins the way many folks seem to think they will be.

I’m just wondering if my Milton Berle supposition here is going to play its way out and say, perhaps, Pavel Datsyuk has a “good enough” morning skate on Saturday and he’s a go for Game 1. I think Babcock is playing everyone here and look out if he is, because if he whips it out all the way… It’s going to be a freak show out there.

If he’s not doing that and Pittsburgh is exactly what they’ve looked like the last few weeks this is going to be a series for the ages and the official start of a cross-conference rivalry for all of us to sit back and enjoy for the years to come.

Just remember, if the Penguins win and writers from across the Internet start proclaiming their ability to predict the Gretzky Prophecy just remember that it was right here where the comparisons began in earnest a year ago and that Andrew Divoff and Christopher Walken are going to kick their asses for fulfilling the prophecy.

05/05/2009

Don’t Make Me Hate You, Sid

I’ll come out and say it and I don’t give a crap what it makes you think of me or my opinions.

Sidney Crosby is a gift to us all.

I know what you’re thinking now…

“OH SHURE HOCKY JOE! U R A BETMAN SUCKUP!! LOLZ!1!”

Right, sure, whatever.

Like it or not, Sidney Crosby is awesome and the NHL is a million times better off having him, his talent and his presence around than without it.

Is he over-exposed? Maybe to NHL fans, but not to the world that’s for damn sure.

Is he a great player? Fuckin’ A right he is.

He’s phenomenal and his talent is a once-in-a-generation kind of talent and we’re blessed as NHL fans to have three other players in the NHL that are on that same kind of unearthly level of talent (Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Lidstrom).

Are NHL fans pissed that three of those four players are playing in the same series in the second round? Maybe the jerk-off fans that are self-loathers are – but me? I’m tickled. Gary Bettman is tickled too, no doubt, because he gets to see the two prizes he cares about most finally have their “Bird vs. Magic” series.

Never mind that it’s taking place in the second round, that’s irrelevant. What matters is that it’s happening and, as of right now, it’s absolutely electric.

Just like most things in the NHL, sometimes things happen that help amp up the story. Sometimes when superstars collide, the best is brought out of them. Case in point, Game 2 of this series. Hat tricks from both of the superstars (their first hat tricks in the playoffs) including this stirring series of bombs from Alex Ovechkin:

As it goes, as it has always gone, when you’re the home team and your home guy nets a hat trick, the hats come out on to the ice. It’s a tradition that’s been around since the dawn of time (give or take an epoch) and it’s awesome. Flat out, it’s awesome.

Unless you’re on the visiting team.

Enter the man in the white uniform and the black hat, Sidney Crosby.

From the DC Sports Bog:


“People kept throwing hats,” Sidney Crosby said tonight. “I was just asking if he could make an announcement to ask them to stop. I mean, the first wave came and then I think they were all pretty much picked up, and then more started coming. So for us, we just wanted to make sure we kept kind of moving and kept the game going, wanted to try to get back in it. So wasn’t complaining about anything.”

Ah, jeez.

Listen, I get that he’s being the captain of the team. That’s good, that’s fine, that’s the admirable thing to do. He’s also being brutally honest with the press when asked about this.

As a person who has done plenty of sports interviews and gotten nothing but Athlete-speak from them, to get a freaking gold mine of a quote like this is awesome because then jerks like me cite your website, give you more hits and all that fun.


No, they ain’t sippin’ on some sizzurp – that’s straight Haterade.

When your name is Sidney Crosby though… Stuff like this gets a lot more run. Like it or not, Sid’s got the reputation for being a whiner. As a fan of hockey, it sucks more than life itself to see that one of the most marketable guys in the league, the like-it-or-not face of the NHL is labeled a big pansy bitch.

That sucks a lot and it drives me nuts to see Sid continue to do things that feed into this image. I want him to be Captain Cool, I want to see him make people that hate him shut up by delivering every damn time. I want him to be The Terminator and crusher of souls. As an NHL fan I want the biggest name and the league’s icon to be the man.

Simple as that.

In a series that features the two guys that are fighting to be the A #1 icon of the game, some folks might point to this game as the one that separates them for good. They both deliver hat tricks in stunning performances. Ovechkin with his bomb shots and Crosby doing the down and dirty work in front of the net putting home rebounds.

Had the Penguins won this game, Sid would rightfully be getting the praise for throwing a change up at the Capitals and doing things differently. Sure, maybe that quote gets some more run, but at least that can get spun off to make him more of an honest-to-badass villain. Like, say…


“Hey ref, tell these chumps to stop throwing hats – this game is fucking over with because I said so.”

Cutthroat? You better believe it. Cocky? As hell. Bad-ass? Hell fucking yes it is.

Instead, reality deals us a Capitals win with Ovechkin waving his junk at everyone because he’s that damn good. In his case, being a Russian helps add to his allure. The interviews are tougher to do with regular schmoe reporters because his English skills are mostly limited to Athlete-Speak.

The one time he did let loose was in an interview with Maxim Magazine and he was instantly villified for what came out there.

Thanks for nothing mainstream media. Dicks.

So now what’s the fallout from this for Crosby? He unfortunately solidifies a reputation that’s already been made bad enough to handle by a well-paid PR firm.

After all, when you’re playing a rough game like hockey where there’s a delicate balance between being a cocky braggart and cutthroat competitor, being a crying wuss wins you no favor and makes the job of sticking up for your boy even harder.

At least if I was Sid, I’d be happy to have the guys at The Official PensBlog on my side, I’d hate to see how they’d handle having that kind of ammo to use against him. For that alone, I’d hope to never leave Pittsburgh without a Stanley Cup or two if I were him.

What kills me about all this is that I enjoy how Sid plays the game and he makes it so incredibly difficult to love Sidney Crosby the player. Whether it’s the opinion of the other players that he’s a whiner or the consistent cries from fans all over the NHL that he’s a diver on top of all of that… It’s incredibly hard to embrace him as the MAN when there’s a guy doing all of those things that you admire playing against him. It creates an instant divide amongst fans.

You’re either a Sid fan or an Alex fan.

Simple as that.

When you’re put on the spot after a tough game, a tough loss particularly, and you’re getting a thousand different questions about the game and someone mentions the other guy, the other big gun outshining you for a night and you’re frustrated that you couldn’t do more than your own three goals and your answer is to just blurt out that you wanted the officials to make an announcement about the hats being thrown on the ice for the other guy’s hat trick…

The best way for Sid to answer all of this is to flip the script and do it right back and let the fans at The Igloo shower the ice in hats. Then to do it again the next game and not relent.

Sid’s shown us he can wear the Black Hat and be the villain by driving hockey fans nuts with these things like whining and diving, now it’s time to fully embrace the darkside. Be comfortable with being thoroughly hated in places like Philly and Washington and New York.

Score that game-winner in overtime some night and then proclaim afterwards that you knew you’d get it all along. Sid is referred to as “Bing” over at PensBlog, but I’d rather seem him break out something a little more like another cocksure legend:

Is it wrong to want all of our new hockey heroes to be bad-asses? I don’t think so.

Snap out of it already Sid.

Do it.

06/06/2008

Penguins Are Fans of the Trapezoid

Filed under: Brooks Orpik,Michel Therrien,Pittsburgh Penguins — Joe Yerdon @ 10:03 AM

I had no idea that some Pittsburgh Penguins players were big fans of my writing. A snippet from the Toronto Sun from this morning:

Brooks Orpik, the free agent defenceman who will be coveted by many teams after
July 1, has told people he will not re-sign in Pittsburgh if Therrien is the
coach. Jordan Staal, the terrific young player who lives in the shadow of Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin — but is poised to bust out as one of the most complete
centres in hockey — is another Therrien complainer.

I say they’re paying attention here because after Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, I called out to the Penguins saying that keeping Michel Therrien on board to coach a young team and then providing the example that crying to officials and complaining is the way to go was the exact opposite of what the Penguins need to become world beaters.

Now word comes out that, indeed, there is a faction of players in the Pittsburgh locker room who are less-than-thrilled with the coaching work of Michel Therrien.

Make no mistake here, if Pittsburgh is able to return to the Finals next season, they’ll be doing it with close to an entire new roster. The Pens have a lot of guys hitting free agency and at least two of them are going to get big pay days (Marian Hossa and Brooks Orpik). Considering that Pittsburgh has to contend with having a boatload of younger talent that will require big deals at some point in the near future, there’s potential to see this Finals team getting, for all intents and purposes, blown up.

Make no mistake, Ray Shero is a good and shrewd general manager – and I don’t mean that in the, “He’s dirt cheap and cuts corners to make things happen” kind of way – but he’s got his hands full and more in having to deal with this.

Take a look at the list of free agents on the Penguins roster – the important ones anyhow:

Restricted Free Agents

  • Marc-Andre Fleury

Unrestricted Free Agents

  • Marian Hossa
  • Pascal Dupuis
  • Ty Conklin
  • Mark Eaton
  • Adam Hall
  • Georges Laraque
  • Ryan Malone
  • Brooks Orpik
  • Gary Roberts
  • Jarkko Ruutu

In a word: YIKES!

You’re looking at both goaltenders (Fleury and Conklin), three top wingers (Malone, Hossa, Dupuis), two big defensemen (Orpik and Eaton – Eaton missed a large part of the season with injury and is infinitely better than Rob Scuderi), and a pack of role players (Ruutu, Roberts, Laraque, Hall). Worse yet, they still have Darryl Sydor still under contract at $2.5 million dollars – and he didn’t play in the playoffs until part of the way into the Cup Finals and it wasn’t because of injury.

Some of them will stay, obviously, it’s not as if they’re all going to leave – but you’re looking at a team that is very likely going to have to change some big parts and the dynamics of the team. That’s a lot to ask out of your GM and its even more to ask out of your head coach and I don’t know that I’d be one to trust an overhauled team with a guy who seems to lose his head and focus so easily like Michel Therrien.

Change is in the air in Pittsburgh in a big way and this is just the start.

06/05/2008

Game 6: Svensk glädje — Detroit wins 3-2 — Detroit Wins Series 4-2

Simply put, the Detroit Red Wings with Chris Osgood at the helm in goal were the best team in the NHL come playoff time.

They perpetually played low on mistakes, although you wouldn’t have really guessed that from watching the final two games of this series.

They played the best defense of anyone in the league while maintaining a high-powered and dangerous offense. Their goaltenders, the aforementioned Osgood and former-starter and future Hall-of-Famer Dominik Hasek, won the Jennings Trophy this season for least goals allowed – an award that’s as much a credit to the blueliners in front of them as it is to their ability to stop the puck.

The most talented forwards on the team don’t just score, they stop your big guys from scoring too. And worse yet for the rest of the league, there’s two of them supported by many others whose games are equally sound in other aspects. Four lines of pressure every night.

With all that said, NHL fans and media alike know that they didn’t really see the absolute best out of Detroit in this series – something that’s truly scary. Give that credit to the Pittsburgh Penguins who after the shellshock of the first two games of the Finals, snapped out of it to take the action to Detroit in a way they’d seen only a few times before. They got it out of Dallas and Nashville alike but Pittsburgh’s attack was all the more deadly simply because of the high level of offensive power they can roll out with.

Marian Hossa and Sidney Crosby we’re seemingly inseperable on the score sheet, the former finding a way to earn himself an even bigger payday in the offseason should he so choose. Defensemen like Sergei Gonchar and Brooks Orpik earned themselves a ton of respect. Gonchar went from being hailed as a non-defensive defenseman to being one of the more important guys out there on both ends. Brooks Orpik, he also on the impending unrestricted free agency list, solidified himself as a no-nonsese defensive defenseman, a polar opposite to that of the man formerly known as Sergei Gonchar.

The concerns for the Pens this offseason will be all the free agents they’ve got to deal with both restricted and unrestricted. They’ve also got to be mildly concerned with Evgeni Malkin’s production and complaints to the press during the Finals about being tired. Malkin did finally seem to settle down during the overtime periods in Game 5 and scored a goal in Game 6. As the Red Wings will tell you, sometimes you just need to take your time with the Russian forwards and know when to push their buttons. The Wings did it with both Sergei Fedorov and now with Pavel Datsyuk and those guys both managed to do things well after getting over the hump. This is where I’ll stick by my points from before Game 5 that Michel Therrien is not the guy to be leading this bunch.

That said, all the credit in the world for this Red Wings squad belongs equally to Ken Holland and Mike Babcock. Holland for knowing which buttons to push and what moves to make to ensure the team’s success. Stealing Brad Stuart away from the Los Angeles Kings is a move that didn’t seem to stand out to many, but Stuart provided the piece needed for the Wings to roll two top-notch, top flight defensive pairs. Stuart was always pegged as a #1 or #2 defenseman wherever he went and expectations may have been too much for him. He steps in in Detroit paired up with Nicklas Kronwall and they hit it off like bosom buddies all while helping to keep black-cloud-plagued Andreas Lilja off the ice.

All the stories you’re going to read from here on out are going to be about the Swedes. Hell, the title for this game comes from a Swedish newspaper headline, written in Swedish and everything! The wit just abounds around here I tell you.

That said, it can’t be overstated in any way how great three Swedes in particular played this playoff year. Nicklas Lidstrom, the captain, the first European captain to lead a Stanley Cup Champion was just himself out there and that’s better than just about 98% of the rest of the league. Johan Franzen, while battling mysterious concussion-like injuries, still managed to finish tied for the NHL Playoff lead in goals scored and he missed the better part of the Dallas series as well as part of the series with Pittsburgh.

And finally, Henrik Zetterberg who rose above all and showed what it means to be a dominating two-way force on the ice, scoring goals and preventing goals from scoring just the same. What other player out there can say he helped hold back one of the top power plays in the NHL while killing a 5×3 power play twice in the same series (Game 4 and again tonight in Game 6). People will reflect back on this Championship run by the Red Wings and watch and re-watch tape of what Henrik Zetterberg did all throughout these playoffs and be amazed. His efforts in Game 6, notching an assist and scoring the game-winning goal all while doing amazing work on the penalty kill.

Zetterberg is the type of player that young and up and coming players will want to model themselves after. After all, he’s not a hulking mass of man the way Eric Lindros was when he emerged and seemed to set the tone for what a hockey player should be. He’s what the NHL would love to have every team equipped with – luckily for the Red Wings, he’s all theirs. It may have seemed like overdramatized blustering from Mike Emrick during Game 4 when after Pittsburgh was denied on their 5×3 power play much in part to the play of Zetterberg that he referred to it as a “Conn Smythe performance” but he hit it flush on the head.

To all the hockey loudmouths out there who have some sort of maniacal pro-North American (or just pro-Canadian) bent who opted to look past the Red Wings because of the heavy European influence on the roster, just ask guys like Dallas Drake, Dan Cleary and Chris Osgood what they think of the soft Euros on their roster. It’s very likely they won’t hear you because of the Stanley Cup rings clogging up their ears. Xenophobic rants from a dottering old man like Don Cherry and the handfuls of others not nearly as famous as he got put to rest for good tonight and for that we should all be thankful.

Hockey is skill. Hockey is speed. Hockey is the highest of high talent. Hockey the way it was meant to be seen on the grandest stage of them all is what we were treated to over the last two weeks and when dinosaurs like Cherry opt to ignore the efforts of guys like Lidstrom, Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Malkin because they didn’t hail from Flin Flon, Medicine Hat, Moose Jaw or even Moose Factory in Canada is embarassing and insulting to the rest of us that love this game.

I welcome our talented European overlords and hope that more like the ones we watched in the Finals as well as guys like Alexander Ovechkin come surging into North America to play in the NHL because then we all win, we all get our game back. We’ve gotten it back a lot the last couple of weeks and for those of you who just returned after a 14 or 15 year absence:

We’ve missed you. Now grab a seat, grab a beer and dust off that old sweater – things should only get better from here on out.
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