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Pittsburgh vs. Detroit Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (26-23-5-55) vs. Detroit Red Wings (34-11-7-75)

Where: Mellon Arena
When: Sunday, February 8, 12:30 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: NBC, nationally televised game
Season Series: The Penguins won the previous meeting, Nov. 11, with a 7-6 come-from-behind overtime triumph. Jordan Staal scored a hat trick (all three goals in the third period) and assisted on the overtime-winning score.



Pens vs. Red Wings 11/11
Special Teams: Special teams are important in any game but they will be crucial against Detroit. The Red Wings have the best power-play squad in the NHL. The Penguins are going to have to be disciplined and stay out of the box. But the Red Wings penalty killing unit ranks 27th in the NHL. The Penguins can use that to their advantage and a man-advantage score or two will go a long way towards a third consecutive Penguins victory.

Focus: There are a lot of distractions surrounding the nationally televised Stanley Cup Final rematch. Pittsburgh's focus has to be on one thing...winning. The Penguins are in a fight to get into the playoffs and this game isn't about the past - it's about the future. What happened last year is over. It's time to focus all the team's efforts on picking up two points and forget everything else.
What’s left to say about the Detroit Red Wings? They’re the defending Stanley Cup Champions – a fact Penguins fans know painfully well – and they are the favorite to repeat. The Wings have won four titles in the past 11 seasons. Oh, did we mention that they are the last team in the league to win back-to-back titles (1997-98) and have finished with the best regular-season record in three of the past four seasons. What’s more, the Red Wings may actually be more dangerous this season with the additions made by general manager Ken Holland. The only major roster loss was Dominik Hasek’s retirement, but Holland brought in a quality backup in Ty Conklin, and then added the best available free agent, the two-way, dynamic sniper Marian Hossa – again, a fact Penguins fans know painfully well.

The Red Wings got off to one of the best starts in franchise history with a 14-2-4 mark. Detroit is starting to pull ahead in the Central Division with a six-point lead on second-place Chicago. The Red Wings trail Western Conference leading San Jose by five points. Detroit had been right on the Sharks’ heels until hitting a minor speed bump in late January, going 0-4-1 to end the month. The Red Wings bounced back from the slump with a three-game winning streak, which they’re carrying into Pittsburgh.
The newest faces in Detroit’s lineup are a familiar pair to Pittsburgh. The Red Wings inked two former Penguins, Marian Hossa and Ty Conklin, each to one-year contracts. Hossa declined signing a contract with Pittsburgh and opted for Detroit because he felt they had a better chance at winning a Stanley Cup. So far he’s been out to prove he made the right decision with a spectacular season. Conklin played admirably last season when Marc-Andre Fleury went down to injury. His play kept the Penguins above water until Fleury returned. Conklin has worked his way into a rotating role with the Red Wings.
Detroit boasts the top-ranked offense in the NHL. The Red Wings are averaging a leage-best 3.65 goals per game. Detroit also has the best power play in the league, converting at a 27.6-percent clip.

Pavel Datsyuk paces the team in scoring with 20 goals and 43 assists for 63 points. He’s also a great two-way forward, winning the Lady Byng Trophy last season with a plus-41. Datsyuk currently leads the Wings with a plus-27 rating. He’s skating on Detroit’s “top line” with Henrik Zetterberg and Dan Cleary. Zetterberg, who recently signed a 12-year contract with the Red Wings, is third on the team with 45 points (18G-27A). Cleary provides energy to the top unit but has chipped in 26 points for Detroit.

Hossa is the Red Wings’ leading goal scorer with 29 tallies to go along with his 25 assists and 54 points. He’s working on the Red Wings’ “second line” with Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula. Franzen is second on the team with 22 goals while also tallying 34 points. Jiri Hudler continues to develop as a player. The 24-year-old Czech native already set a new career high this season with 17 goals. He’s also posted 26 assists for 43 points to rank fourth on the team in scoring despite playing on the third line. Hudler is only two points shy of setting a new career high in points.
Detroit is allowing 2.94 goals per game, ranking 20th in the NHL. The Red Wings are very susceptible when they’re shorthanded. The team is ranked 27th in the league with a penalty killing percentage of 77.4.

Niklas Lidstrom is still one of the best, if not the best, defensemen in the league despite being 38 years old. Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski paired up as one of the best duos in the NHL. The tandem are the top scoring blueliners for Detroit with Lidstrom netting 35 points (9G-26A) and Rafalski posting 39 (8G-31A).

Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall add a physical presence on the Red Wings blue line. Kronwall established himself as an elite hitter that can light up opponents. Stuart decided to sign with Detroit after being acquired by the Red Wings at last season’s trade deadline. He’s a big body that skates smoothly and makes accurate passes but he is currently on the shelf with a rib injury.

Holland thinks highly of Derek Meech’s potential. The 24-year-old defenseman is making his mark in the NHL, but is day-to-day with a sore groin. Chris Chelios cracked his fibula early in the season. He’s missed time throughout the season with various injuries but appears to finally be healthy.
Chris Osgood has played his way back from obscurity to the top of the world. After brief stints with the N.Y. Islanders and St. Louis Blues, Osgood returned to Detroit after the lockout to be a backup for the team that he once led to a Stanley Cup championship. Three seasons later, he would replace Hall-of-Famer Dominik Hasek in net and lead Detroit to another title. It was a good story during the Cup run.

Ty Conklin went from AHL goaltender, to backup and even starter for the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Penguins. Conklin shined with an 18-8-5 record, 2.51 goals against average and .923 save percentage. He may have salvaged Pittsburgh’s season when Marc-Andre Fleury was lost to injury. He signed a one-year deal to make a run for a Cup and is a serviceable backup. However, Conklin has played so well that he’s forced the Red Wings to split time between the two goaltenders. His numbers are spectacular with a 17-7-1 record, 2.41 goals against average, .914 save percentage and five shutouts. Conklin played Saturday afternoon for Detroit but it is unknown which netminder will start against Pittsburgh.
Pavel Datsyuk is staking his claim as the best two-way forward in the NHL. On the defensive side, Datsyuk won the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward last year. He led the NHL with a plus-41 rating. The former sixth-round pick has also taken home the Lady Byng Trophy for three consecutive seasons (2006, 2007 and 2008).

As far as the offensive zone, Datsyuk’s numbers speak for themselves. The Russian has led the Red Wings in scoring the past three seasons with points totals of 87 (2006), 87 (2007) and 97 (2008). He set new career highs last year in goals (31), assists (66), points (97) and plus-minus rating (+41). Datsyuk finished fourth in the NHL scoring race. Not too bad for the 171st pick in the 1998 draft.
“There are a lot of story lines for sure. For us we don’t want to really look too far into it and make sure that we just keep playing the same way that we’re playing. If we can bring added motivation then great, but we just want to make sure that we play the same way.”
- Sidney Crosby
Nicklas Lidstrom played in his 1,300th career game Wednesday against Phoenix. Only Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio and Steve Yzerman have played more for Detroit.

Author: Sam Kasan

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