DETROIT - If the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to win the Stanley Cup, then somebody had better put in a wakeup call to Evgeni Malkin.
The Hart Trophy finalist has been in a funk since midway through the third round against Philadelphia and unless he gets it in gear, the Penguins are going to be hard-pressed to defeat the Red Wings.
The Flyers used physical contact to slow the big Russian down in the Eastern Conference final, but Saturday the Red Wings left him alone. No sense in waking a sleeping giant.
Malkin spent most of the game up against Detroit’s second defensive pairing of Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall and often was up against forwards Kris Draper and Valtteri Filppula. It’s not as though those players had to work hard to contain him, either. On a scale of one to 10, Malkin’s effort registered about a four.
Not to suggest Saturday night’s loss in the series opener was entirely his fault, but he was barely noticeable in the game until he took a lazy tripping penalty late in the second period and then mishandled the puck early in the third, a play that led to Detroit’s Mikael Samuelsson scoring his second goal of the night.
Pittsburgh’s other marquee player, Sidney Crosby, fared a little better. He was able to control play for periods of time, particularly when his team had the man advantage, but at the end of the night, he too probably wishes he could take a mulligan.
Crosby’s best scoring chance came midway through the third period when he couldn’t corral a rebound off the backboards despite staring at an empty net.
Although both teams possess a lot of offensive power, the opener was not the fire-wagon hockey many expected. No matter how many goals they score, the Red Wings will always be a defense-first team and that was evident in the way they limited Pittsburgh’s scoring chances, especially in the second period when they outshot the Penguins 16-4.
* Hardest hit of the night goes to Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who flattened Pittsburgh winger Ryan Malone, catching him with his head down as he tried to carry the puck out of his team’s zone.
* Tomas Holmstrom is a marked man. For the second time the Red Wings had a goal disallowed because Holmstrom was ruled to have interfered with the goalie. On this occasion Holmstrom’s stick wound up between the legs of Marc-Andre Fleury, who was unable to stop Nicklas Lidstrom’s close-range shot. The goal was waved off and Holmstrom was penalized for goaltender interference. For the record, I thought it was a good call. Many sitting by me in the press box did not.
* It was a bad night for the Pittsburgh power play. The Penguins were 0-for-5 and allowed a third period shorthanded goal by Dan Cleary.
* The Penguins outshot Detroit 12-11 in the first period, but then managed just four shots in the second period and only three in the third. Once the Red Wings got the lead, they dug in and played the puck-control game they are known for.
* You think players are superstitious? While the Red Wings like to alternate players leading the stretch on the ice at game day skates, they went with Darren McCarty the morning of Game 1 because he led the stretch prior to the start of Game 6 of the Dallas series – a Detroit victory.
You may recall McCarty also has a superstition; he likes to be the last player to leave the ice after warm-up. About 10 years ago at a game in Calgary, he came up against the Flames’ Sandy McCarthy, who also likes to be the last player to leave. The two stubbornly stood on the ice until they finally decided to do rock, paper, scissors to see who would leave first. McCarthy won, so McCarty left. “He beat me fare and square, so I left,” McCarty said.
* If you live in the Detroit area and spent Saturday night home alone, you might want to consider getting life. Not only did the Red Wings play in Game 1 of the final, the Pistons and Boston Celtics were playing in town, the Tigers had a home game and an outdoor techno-pop concert was being held.
* Every year NHL commissioner Gary Bettman meets with the media prior to the start of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final to talk about how wonderful things are, even when they aren’t.
This year, however, things actually are pretty good. Starting with the fact two teams boasting boatloads of skill are in the final, plus NHL attendance exceeded 21 million for the first time (an average of 17,000 per game, also a first). So there really isn’t a whole lot to complain about.
THE HOCKEY NEWS GAME 1 THREE STARS
1. Mikael Samuelsson, Detroit
2. Chris Osgood, Detroit
3. Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh
THN senior writer Mike Brophy is on the road following the Stanley Cup final and will be filing daily reports until a champion is crowned. To read his other entries, click HERE.
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