Tuesday night features the return engagement between last spring's Stanley Cup finalists as the Pittsburgh Penguins travel to Detroit to tangle with Red Wings (7 p.m. Eastern time on Versus). Both teams sport spiffy records heading into the match-up -- the Pens at 8-4-2 with identical 4-2-1 home and road marks; the Wings at 9-2-2 despite already having played eight road games.
So, on the surface, all seems to be as you'd expect, except the defending Cup champs are coming into this meeting more intact than last season's challengers, and the Red Wings are healthier to boot. In fact, one of the interesting aspects of this game is that it features
Hossa landed in Detroit's lineup when he made it known that he would entertain a one-year contract, and spurn a multi-year offer for megabucks to stay in Pittsburgh. He would do so, as the story goes, for slightly less than the Wings self-imposed salary mark of $7.5M -- the amount paid to their top player,
That left quite a hole on the Penguins' top line. Hossa and Crosby worked extremely well together, once they were both healthy and had some time to gel. Along with
Meanwhile, Crosby ranks fifteenth at 3-13-16 due to his having scored only three goals. Dupuis has but two tallies on the season. To say the Penguins are searching for continuity isn't a stretch. To replace Hossa and
Yet, the Penguins are finding ways to win. Goaltender
And while the Red Wings are breezing along, they are giving up more goals- against and shots-against (3.08 and 28.9 respectively) than last season (2.18 and 23.5, both of which set the standard in the NHL). Maybe more telling is how the Wings are getting it done. Their powerplay is off the charts at over 30% efficiency, but it masks a precipitous drop in even-strength efficiency. Last season, the Wings led the league with a 1.41 ratio of goals-scored vs. goals-surrendered while skating five-on-five. This season, they are merely break-even, which a decline in even-strength effectiiveness of nearly half a goal per game.
It all adds up to the two Conference champions from 2007-08 getting off to comparatively strong starts, not that the numbers will matter one bit once they drop the puck. It promises to be more personal than predictable because, after all, who could have foretold Hossa as a Red Wing last spring when the Cup was at stake?