The stories going into the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals are rich. For one it is a rematch from last year with the Penguins and Red Wings returning to the finals to once more compete for the Stanley Cup.Will this year be any different?
The Red Wings could establish themselves as a modern hockey dynasty and ensure certain members of the team their names in the hall of fame. The Penguins on the other hand have the opportunity cement their status as the most exciting team in the NHL with a Cup in these finals.
Going into the finals the Penguins have the top two scorers in the playoffs and two of the top three from the regular season in Malkin and Crosby. They have an exciting young goaltender in Fleury, and a solid young core of players in Jordan Staal, Max Talbot, Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, and Tyler Kennedy. These players as well as veterans like Sergei Gonchar, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Bill Guerin will all be counted on to contribute in this playoff series if the Penguins hope to win.
With the Red Wings, the standard questions going in apply: Will the wheels on the bus keep chugging? Are injuries to players like Lidstrom and Datsyuk actually going to make any difference?
As it turns out the contests very much resembled a martial arts contest between two evenly matched opponents, able to predict and match one another’s moves. Unfortunately for the Penguins, the home dojo advantage was prevalent.
Now that the series is switching to Pittsburgh, the Penguins will be given the first change. This will allow Dan Bylsma to separate Crosby from Zetterberg and Lidstrom but will it be enough to get the Penguins’ captain scoring?
Likewise with Malkin, will his outburst at the end of game two provide him with the spark he seems to require to take control of a game?
The most important adjustments for Dan Bylsma and the Penguins to make may be the ones they actually don’t make. The games have been close thus far, close enough where you could argue home-ice played a deciding role. Judging by the Penguins disposition heading into Tuesday night, that seems to be the case.
Restructuring the Roster:
The off-season for the Penguins will be another one of radical change. Players like Rob Scuderi, Hall Gill, Petr Sykora, and Miroslav Satan have all, for better or worse, played themselves out of Pittsburgh. For Scuderi, he has been a revelation these playoffs, for Gill, Sykora, and Satan, the pastures have clearly been greener in the past.
Never fear however, as the reinforcements should be ready pretty soon. The Penguins signed prospects Casey-Pierro Zabotel, Alex Grant, Joe Vitale, Robert Bortuzzo, and Brian Strait to entry-level deals. Strait and Vitale should be expected to compete for NHL roster spots next year while prospects already under contract such as Dustin Jeffrey, Ben Lovejoy, Luca Caputi, and Alex Goligoski will get a chance to see full-time action.
Prospects such as WHL leading scorer Zabotel as well as Grant, Keven Veilleux, and Eric Tangradi all require a bit more development, but could also surprise the Penguins in 2009-10. If the majority of these prospects pan out, the Penguins lineup could resemble Detroit’s in a few years – flush with homegrown talent.
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Written by Ian Altenbaugh