Kukla's Korner

Goal Line Report

Tale of Two Cities

During the summer months and pre-season, hockey pundits and fans alike make their hockey-related predictions for the upcoming season whether it’s line combinations, potential trades, standings and some even go as far as predicting which teams will battle it out for hockey’s greatest prize: the Stanley Cup.

I, Patrick Hoffman, do not claim to be a hockey expert but I’ve been around the game almost all of my life, seen hundreds upon hundreds of NHL games live, held media credentials to New York Rangers games and even play the sport. I know what it takes to win hockey games and I believe that if you were to look at two teams in particular, you would see that they both have a chance to win the Cup.

Yes, I know that we haven’t even played one pre-season game but I figured I’d start this blog off with a bang and state that I believe that the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings will meet in the finals come May/June of 2009. If you agree with me, great! However, feel free to disagree and tell me your reasons why and I will do my best to get back to you.

All About Chemistry

As Semisonic’s song clearly states, “it’s all about chemistry.” The Detroit Red Wings have just that as many of their players have spent most of their careers in Motown (Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Holmstrom, Kirk Maltby, and Chris Osgood) winning President’s Trophies, Western Conference championships and more importantly, Stanley Cups together.
Speaking of chemistry, Detroit’s offense is explosive and with the addition of Marian Hossa, you know it’s only going to get better. Last season, the team placed third in the league with 252 goals for, which is an average of just over three goals a game. If guys like Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen, Hossa and Dan Cleary remain healthy and find consistency early on, you know that number is going to rise.

Behind Zetterberg and Datsyuk, the offense quiets down somewhat but nevertheless, it will provide the Wings with the depth they need to have a successful season. Last season, guys like Cleary and Samuelson each had 40 points while a guy like Holmstrom, with the right players, can score over 60 points or so.
Not only do the Red Wings have the offense, but they also have a stellar blue line with the likes of Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Chris Chelios, Brad Stuart, and Niklas Kronwall. This was a defense that led the league in goals against and also had two guys who cracked the 50-point barrier as the Norris Trophy winning Lidstrom had 70 points and Rafalski had 55. No reason to believe why they can’t do the same next season.
It’s a known fact in hockey circles that you can’t win without solid goaltending. Look what happened to the Senators in the 2007 Cup Final against the Ducks or the Philadelphia Flyers of 1997. 

Luckily for the Wings, they have Osgood, who silenced any doubters by winning his third Cup with the team (second as starter) and posting a 2.09 goals against average, a .914 save percentage and 27 wins to lead the team to their fourth cup in 11 years.
With Dominik Hasek retired, Osgood will be the full-time starter and will be backed up by Ty Conklin, who had a good season in his own right going 18-8 with a 2.51 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. With an offense that can score like crazy and a defense that can clear the zone, both these goaltenders should have success in 2008-09.
So there you have it, folks, the Red Wings in a nutshell. I know that it is extremely early to predict who will win the Cup when not even a pre-season game has been played but in my book, picking this team to at least appear in the finals would be hard to argue with.
   
Return to the Igloo

Before saying that the Red Wings are the team to beat in the National Hockey League, we must not forget about the Eastern Conference’s Pittsburgh Penguins.

While the Penguins lost talented and veteran players such as Hossa, Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts, Ty Conklin and now Ryan Whitney for three to five months after undergoing surgery on his left foot, this is a team that has the potential to return to the big dance in late May.

Most people would hear that and think that this team may have trouble being as competitive as they were last season when they won the Atlantic Division and finished second in the Eastern Conference. However, let’s not forget about the players that they DO have and that they added.

How can people forget that the Penguins have Sid “the Kid” Crosby? Crosby, of drinking age now, missed 29 games last season and still posted 72 points and was impressive in the playoffs, posting 27 points in 26 games. Look for him to be back on top of the league in scoring , that is if he can stay healthy.

And how can we forget about Evgeni Malkin? This guy was the team’s MVP last season by tallying 106 points (47 goals and 59 assists) and controlling games while his buddy Sid was recovering. You can also look for him to challenge for the NHL’s scoring lead.

Adding Miroslav Satan will also certainly help things in the Burgh. If Satan can regain the scoring touch and start scoring 30 goals a season like he used to back in Buffalo, this Penguins offense may be even more dangerous than it looks on paper.

Like the Red Wings, well, may be not as much, the Penguins do have a lot of offensive depth with guys like Petr Sykora, Jordan Staal, Pascal Dupuis along with newcomers Ruslan Fedotenko and Matt Cooke. These are the kind of guys that the team needs in close games to not only contribute offense, but also play well defensively, which is what these guys know how to do.

Defensively, this team is in good position as they were able to resign their big guy, Brooks Orpik, who logged over 40 minutes of ice time in the playoffs and ranked sixth in the league in hits (39) and blocked 125 shots.

The team also still has the offensively-talented Sergei Gonchar, who posted 65 points in the regular season and added 14 in the playoffs. He has a booming shot, can find the open man and more importantly, is still able to be responsible in his own end.

You also cannot forget about Kris Letang, who is only 21 years old and has the potential to score at least 30-40 points a season. He still has a lot of learning to do when it comes to playing in his own end but with guys like Gonchar, Orpik and Hal Gill on the blue line, that should come with time. 

Last but not least, the team has a young stud in goal in Marc-Andre Fleury. Limited to 35 games in the regular season due to a high ankle sprain, Fleury showed just how good he can be. During the regular season, Fleury went 19-10 with a 2.33 goals against average and a .921 save percentage. The Pens’ netminder was even better in the playoffs as he won 14 games and posted a stellar 1.97 goals against average and .933 save percentage. With Fleury in goal, the future in net is bright.

Don’t Kill the Messenger

Again, I know that the puck hasn’t been dropped yet and that a lot can happen during the season but I just wanted to stir the pot and see what people think about the possibility of having the Red Wings and Penguins meet in the finals at the end of this upcoming season.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to a great season with all of you here at Kukla’s Korner!

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About Goal Line Report

Patrick has a tremendous passion for hockey. Besides covering the Rangers and the NHL for Kukla's Korner, you can also find Patrick's work over at Sportsnet.ca, The Red Light District Hockey Blog, NHL Home Ice, and Liam Maguire's Ultimate Hockey web site.

Prior to writing for the above mentioned outlets, you could find Patrick's musings at hockey web sites/outlets such as TheHockeyNews.com, TheFourthPeriod.com, Spector's Hockey, Hokeja Vestnesis, Blueshirt Bulletin, SNYRangersBlog.com and many more.

For questions, comments and hip checks, feel free to e-mail Patrick at patrickhoffman3530@gmail.com.