Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Two Down And Uh Oh

If I'm the Pittsburgh Penguins today, I need a long look in the mirror. I have been outplayed by a large margin, and need to find something to help turn this situation around. Now, I'm not the Penguins, nor am I an NHL coach or analyst. Heck, I barely make a good armchair general manager, so it's funny to think that the drunk guy at the local sports bar had it right: there are distinct hockey styles played in both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference.

The Western Conference plays a hard-forechecking, bruising game that allows good teams to capitalize on mistakes. The Anaheim Ducks do this, the San Jose Sharks do this, and, of course, the Detroit Red Wings do this. Teams pay a price against the Western Conference powers because they don't let up. They bang you, they swarm you, and then they score on you.

Detroit is particularly good at this style of play because they have an abundance of speed, and excel at puck control. They utilized this style of play all season long to win the President's Trophy as the league's top team. Defensively, it's all five guys back in the defensive zone where they pressure to the outside, forcing their opponents to make a pass before they can set up. Once they have the turnover in their possession, they simply turn it back up ice where they attack with speed, most times lethally.

The Penguins, on the other hand, play the Eastern Conference style of game which looks a lot more like a European game than a North American game. They are given space, and can move the puck with much greater ease. There isn't a truck named Thornton, Franzen, or Holmstrom parked at the edge of the blue ice in the Eastern Conference, although some teams do put VWs named Gomez, Drury, and Hartnell in front.

All in all, this is the same reason why Anaheim abused Ottawa during last season's Stanley Cup Final, and this is why Detroit is abusing Pittsburgh. Just watch how both teams break out of their zones. Detroit has excellent support for the puck-carrier, while Pittsburgh is looking for the breakout pass.

Anyway, if you're not convinced that Detroit is seriously in control, then maybe this cartoon will help. The Penguins need to start watching a lot of film. Otherwise, they may be clueless right through Game Four as to how to break down the Big Red Machine.

Oh, and just for the record, I had said back in August 2007 that the Red Wings' move of the 'A' and 'C' to the right-side of the jersey bothered me. In fact, my exact words were "The move of the captain's 'C' and alternate captains' "A"s to the right side bothers me. I understand the NHL wanted the Original Six to remain traditional in their looks, but do we have to jump back to the 1950s".

Well, looking at the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Final patch placement on the Red Wings jersey, it only adds to that bother. In the 1950s, there were no Stanley Cup Final patches. What made this worse was that I had remembered that there was the Hockey Fights Cancer patch worn by teams earlier this season. Sure enough, Niklas Lidstrom wore the Hockey Fights Cancer patch, and had it wedged between the neckline and the captain's "C". Do the "C" and "A" markers have to be worn in the armpit?

By contrast, Sergei Gonchar has it right compared to Henrik Zetterberg in this picture. Why not just put the patch on the opposite shoulder? Who is in charge of patch placement in the NHL? Someone needs to give their head a shake, or possibly let Gary Roberts throw a stiff-arm to it.

Game Three goes Wednesday night in Pittsburgh. The Penguins are in must-win mode, while the Red Wings look to take a stranglehold on the series. Looking forward it!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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