Key Observations From the Finals

After two games of the Stanley Cup Finals, the Red Wings have a convincing 2-0 series lead. Detroit won both games 3-1 and here’s a look at why the Red Wings are halfway to becoming the first team to repeat as champions since the Wings themselves did it in 1997 and 1998.

Goaltending A Key

Chris Osgood has been outplaying Marc-Andre Fleury. In the first two games, Osgood has made stopped 62 of 64 shots for a .969 save percentage. More important than the numbers, however, is that Osgood has kept Pittsburgh off the board at key times. Osgood came up big when the Pens were carrying play and his key saves have been difference makers.

Fleury, on the other hand, has allowed at least one soft goal in each game in the series. While Fleury has made some spectacular saves, the soft goals have helped deflate his team at critical times in close games on both Saturday and Sunday. Unless Fleury can make big saves at key moments in Pittsburgh, the series will be over quickly.

Osgood doesn’t get credit for being one of the league’s better netminders. He is rarely asked to carry a team and steal a game in spectacular fashion, but on the Red Wings, he really doesn’t have to. All the man does is win hockey games. Osgood has already played on three Stanley Cup winners and was the starting goaltender on two. He also has 73 career playoff wins which puts him behind only Martin Brodeur among active goaltenders. I’m not saying Osgood is one of the all-time greats, but he doesn’t get all the respect he deserves.

Organizational Depth

Key players like Pavel Datsyuk and Kris Draper have missed the first two games and Detroit hasn’t missed a beat because the Wings are getting key contributions from their depth players. Justin Abdelkader has scored twice in this series already while Darren Helm has played key minutes and picked up an assist while Brad Stuart and Jonathan Ericsson have scored big goals.

Detroit has depth throughout its organization. That means that young players aren’t rushed to the NHL. Also, because the Red Wings’ farm team plays the same style and system as the parent club, the Wings are able to easily insert new players into their lineup who can play at a high level.

Detroit has been playing the same puck possession style of play for roughly 15 seasons now and no team plays it better. To defeat the Wings, the opposition has to essentially beat them at their own game. It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy and the Penguins have struggled in their attempts to defeat Detroit.

Team Defense

The Wings have done a great job of defending in their own zone in the first two games of the finals. Sidney Crosby does his best work down low and close to the crease. That’s where he decimated the Capitals two rounds ago. But the Wings have rarely let him have any time with the puck in front of the net. At least one defender is between Crosby and the goal and loose pucks are always contested.

The Penguins have had chances, especially in Game 2, but they’ve had some bad luck, hitting a few posts and missing their best opportunities. Osgood came up big on other occasions. Against a puck possession team like the Wings, you aren’t going to get too many chances so the Penguins need to convert more of the few they do get if they hope to win.

Malkin’s Fight

I have to agree that it was good to see Evgeni Malkin passionate out there late in Game 2, even if his attempt at fighting left a lot to be desired. Malkin was a non-factor for much of the Finals last season and the Pens need him to come up big in games 3 and 4 in Pittsburgh if the Pens are going to have a chance to get back into this series. By dropping the gloves, at least he showed he was frustrated and that he truly cared.

No surprise that the league is not going to suspend Malkin despite the fact that he drew an instigator penalty late in a game that was out of reach.

“Suspensions are applied under this rule when a team attempts to send a message in the last five minutes by having a player instigate a fight,” the league said in a statement. “A suspension could also be applied when a player seeks retribution for a prior incident. Neither was the case here and therefore the one game suspension is rescinded.”

Malkin is a superstar in this league and the league gives him leeway as a result. It’s not right, but that’s the way it is in all sports. In basketball, Kobe never gets called for a foul; a future Hall of Fame pitcher always gets the borderline strike call in baseball and so on.

Suspending Malkin would really hurt the Penguins chances in the series and it would give viewers one less reason to watch. Even though his actions may have warranted suspension, it would take an extreme violation by an elite player like Malkin to get him suspended in the finals.

By the way, NBC’s ratings for the Stanley Cup Finals are up over last season. Game 2 drew a 3.4 rating and a six share. Last year, NBC’s numbers for Game 2 were a 2.6 rating and a five share.

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