Nuggets from Friday’s Media Day in Detroit:
START ME UP
The Penguins have become a popular pick to win this Stanley Cup Final against the defending champion Detroit Red Wings:
As for my pick, well you’ll have to check out the Vlog …
So, what say yinz? Drop your predictions on the series, playoff MVP and who will be the unlikely star via e-mail.
TOPIC THAT WON’T DIE
Red Wings RW Marian Hossa on his decision to sign with Detroit, instead of the Penguins, last summer: “It came down to two choices, like I said. I could be a good scout because I picked the two best teams right now. But, to tell you the truth, it was a hard one. In life, you have to make hard decisions, and I chose this one. Hopefully, I made the right decision.”
I spotted Hossa before his Q&A with the media Friday afternoon. We shook hands, I extended my congratulations and joked that this had to be his worst nightmare – facing the Penguins in the Cup final. He smiled, and insisted the sexy story line of this series – him against the team he played for and lost in the Final with last season – will go away once the series starts.
I have my doubts. There hasn’t been a story line this juicy in the SCF since, well, who the heck knows. I know this: The Penguins have moved on, and Hossa told me is very happy in Detroit, where I expect he will finish his NHL career.
If the Penguins’ consolation for losing Hossa was to keep its core of Cs Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, G Marc-Andre Fleury and D Brooks Orpik (plus likely extending the contract of D Sergei Gonchar on July 1) – and, that WAS their consolation – I believe they won the day on that swap. Hossa is one of the finer players I’ve covered, both on and off the ice, but that Penguins nucleus is going to win championshipSSSS.
STAT THAT SHOULD INTEREST YOU
Only 13 rookie head coaches have won the Stanley Cup. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is seeking to become the first since 39-year-old Montreal coach Jean Perron in 1986.
A GREAT MESS O’STUFF
Excepts of a Canada interview with Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier:
Q: Wayne, when you look at the Penguins, and Crosby and Malkin in particular, does it remind you of you and Mark back then?
Gretzky: Well, it’s tough to compare sort of eras. There’s obviously going to be comparisons in pro sports, but the one thing that Mark and I had going for each other is that we could count on each other. I knew when I sat down, when he was going to go on the ice, something good and something positive was going to happen. He was going to make a big play. And, as you said, the third goal, that sort of changed the series in first Stanley Cup.
So, probably, that’s the one thing that they’re counting on from each other is to help each other to be able to contribute in a positive factor. And I would say that’s probably the biggest comparison.
Messier:Well, it’s hard. It’s like Wayne says. It’s very hard to compare. And I really love the way they both play. I think either of them could have played in any era. And, for me, it’s always hard to compare anybody against Wayne, because Wayne separated himself more so than any other athlete probably certainly in hockey. So, trying to compare Wayne to anybody is very tough to me or tough for me.
But I love the way they play. I think they both have so much tremendous skill. And they play both with such tremendous power. I think Wayne, more so than anybody, used his finesse probably more so than even Crosby, who you would consider a finesse player.
But he still plays with a tremendous amount of power, where Wayne was just so far in advance of his skill level and his brain power on the ice more so than anybody that’s ever played.
Q: What do you think of the Final between the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins that is about to begin?
Gretzky: Well, I always said that when you’re the champion, you’re still the champion until somebody knocks you off. And I think it’s only fitting that the two teams who played in last year’s Final were able to excel and play tremendous hockey throughout the playoffs.
I think it’s a rematch that most hockey fans want to see. I think the Detroit Red Wings are well-deserving champions and I think the Pittsburgh Penguins will be tremendous opponents who are very, very hungry to capture their first Stanley Cup with Sidney Crosby as their captain.
I think it’s going to be an exciting series. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun for the fans and I think it should be a long, 7-game series.</p?
Q: Does this Pittsburgh team – particularly led by Crosby and Malkin – remind you of your Oilers teams in ’84?
Messier: The comparisons are there in the fact that Pittsburgh does have a dynamic young team.
They did get beat last year against the Stanley Cup champion, Detroit team. Here the same two teams are back again, and I know how much we learned from our experience that when we got beat by Islanders our first kick at the (can) back in ’83. We came back that next year in ’84 with a lot more understanding of what it really took to get us over that next hurdle there. And we used that to our advantage and were able to win the next year.
Columnist Joe Starkey passed along this tidbit: Using coach Dan Bylsma’s aggressive approach, the Penguins averaged 34.9 shots per game during the conference playoffs, a significant increase over their 29.1-per-game output from last year’s conference playoffs. They hope getting more pucks to the net will give them a better shot against Detroit, which has outshot opponents in 34 of 38 playoff games over the past two years, including 26 times by double-digits. The Red Wings’ average margin is plus 10.5 in these playoffs, compared to plus 12.8 last year. In the final, Detroit averaged 13 more shots per game than the Penguins. “Their defensemen find the shooting lanes,” said D Philippe Boucher. “Guys like (Brian) Rafalski, (Niklas) Kronwall, (Nicklas) Lidstrom, they’ll look you off and throw pucks at the net. That’s part of their game plan. They’re elite defensemen.”
Another gem from Mr. Starkey: The Penguins know where they can find Detroit LW Tomas Holmstrom in the SCF – in front of their net. “He’s literally found a home there,” said Boucher. “He works at it. His timing is good. A lot of guys go to the front, but they’ll circle or stop at different areas for tips. He’ll just go there and stay there on purpose to block the goalie’s view.” The first goal of the 2008 SCF was waived off when Holmstrom interfered with Fleury. Is Fleury planning to take a few more whacks at Holmstrom? “I don’t want to get a penalty and put the team in trouble,” he said. “I’ll try my best to see the puck and not get penalties.”