Anyone disheartened by the 2 games to none deficit that the Penguins face has a pretty short memory and needs to take heart: Remember the Caps. For a little perspective, compare not only how close both teams were on the superstats sheets. Compare the stats of the Caps versus those of Detroit in their respective opening home-ice playoff series games, and what is revealed is just how many notches have been kicked up.
Games 1 & 2 Comparisons
While it is a bit tricky to look at stats textually, it is worth the effort because upon careful review, there are reasons to remain as confident as the Penguins are:
- Shots—Pens (72) vs. Caps (59) TO Pens (64) vs. Wings (56)–only 8 shots less over two games compared to the Caps series.
- Missed Shots—Pens (31) vs. Caps (23) TO Pens (18) vs. Wings (27)–Pens have brought down their missed shots total significantly (by 13) while the opponents they faced were in the mid- to high 20s.
- Hits—Pens (40) vs. Caps (51) TO Pens (72) vs. Wings (77)–While the Caps series appeared to be pretty heavy-hitting and physical, when compard to the Wings series, this is a huge statistic and speaks to the heightened physicality of this series. It also shows that the Pens are holding their own and giving as good as they are getting.
- Giveaways—Pens (16) vs. Caps (38) TO Pens (25) vs. Wings (41)–While the Pens have increased slightly in the number of giveaways, the Wings, surprisingly have given up the puck 16 more times, showing that the Pens are applying decent pressure and forcing turnovers.
- Takeaways—Pens (10) vs. Caps (24) TO Pens (17) vs. Wings (20)–Pens have improved on their takeaways in the Detroit series, up by 7 from the Caps series. Also, Detroit has managed four fewer than the Caps could against the Pens.
- Blocked Shots—Pens (37) vs. Caps (40) TO Pens (24) vs. Wings (21)–hard to tell from these numbers, but one possible reason for fewer blocked shots is that more shots may be coming beyond potential blockers where a defender is clearly beaten.
- Faceoff Percentage–Out of 121 draws, Pens (55 for 45%) vs. Caps (66 for 55%) TO out of 106 draws, Pens (43 for 41%) vs. Wings (63 for 59%)–There is room for improvement on the faceoffs; however, in Game 1 to Game 2 comparisons in each series, the Pens actually got worse in the Caps series going from 53% to 38%. In the Detroit series, the Pens improved considerably from Game 1 to Game 2, going from 29% to 53%.
What is Working and What Needs Improvement (Pros ‘n’ Cons)
- Shots are staying above 30. More couldn’t hurt, but play needs to be smart. If Crosby and Malkin (and Bill Guerin and Jordan Staal lately) are drawing two and sometimes three guys to them like bees to honey, that means their linemates and even a pinching point man are wide open on the weak side of Osgood. Plays like the Crosby to Guerin goal in Game 1 and the Fedotenko goal off a Malkin shot strong side that rebounded wide weak side are what’s called for. In the latter case, Feds didn’t sit and watch the beauty of Malkin’s shot. He took off for Osgood’s blind side and buried a weak but juicy rebound. This is what beat Washington’s Varlamov and Carolina’s Ward. This is what was starting to have Osgood look over his left shoulder on more than a few occasions in the latter half of Game 2. Good news for the Pens and something they can capitalize on.
- Hits are high. It does not matter how big a guy is, an older body taking those kinds of hits night after night in intense playoff finals mode is going to show the ill effects. The Pens need to keep pummeling; however, they need to get to the high side of their opponent to keep him from clearing the puck into the neutral zone for a rush the other way. Instead, they need to position checks in a way that forces Detroit to have to push the puck deeper in the ends of the rink whether in the offensive or defensive zone. The Pens started to make that adjustment in the 3rd period. They are also learning to elude hits, particularly the Pens defensemen when they go into their own end for the puck. They smartly let the Wings go in just ahead of them and then pin them to the boards and fight for the puck. Open ice hits–love ’em when they are legal. Hossa and Zetterberg could stand to be on the receiving end of several more.
- Powerplay–Well…hard to do much when penalties are not being called. The bright side is that the one man-advantage situation the Pens had resulted in a goal, putting them at 100% for the game, which is a 100% improvement from Game 1.
- Penalties–Without delving too deeply into the debate over the refs swallowing their whistles as much as they have, the one thing the Pens need to do is to just play to the whistle regardless if they think the ref should have called something. Case in point: the Hossa slash on Pascal Dupuis. While appalling, Dupuis needed to play on and quickly because his delay and that of his fellow team mates gave the Wings an opportunity they capitalized on. Which brings up…
- Goaltending–The higher the stakes, the more it comes down to goaltending, especially in games (series) where all else is fairly equal and hotly contested. Something has got to give, and usually it is the goalie–who blinks first. Like Varlamov, Osgood is winning the battle between the pipes against his counterpart at the other end, Marc-Andre Fleury. However, like Varlamov (and Ward), he is human, and he can be shaken, rattled, and rolled–and beaten. He is starting to second-guess his saves. In Game 1, he was standing up confidently, absorbing shots, and deflecting any rebounds to the corner and out of danger. In Game 2, as the game progressed, he was letting more rebounds get away from him, and he was starting to flop and flail. This is good. Fleury needs to get back up to the low 90s in save percentage. The good news is that his record for consecutively poor games usually does not venture above two, and when he rallies back, he does so with a vengeance. That would be Game 3.
To think this Stanley Cup Final would be over in the Penguins’ favor in five games might be a little naive. However, in six is not out of the realm of possibility, but given how this series is so similar to the Caps series, one should not be surprised that this will go the full seven games. If that’s the case, which team does that favor? The longer the series, the more it plays to the Penguins.