May 30, 2009

Stanley Cup Lesson #1: Bury Them When You Have The Chance

I don't know how many times every season I've seen exactly what transpired in game one. Too many to count, that's for sure.

In this heavyweight match I would not quite suggest Pittsburgh had Detroit on the ropes, but they certainly had them outside of the center of the ring. They played a solid first period and then dominated the first 15 minutes of the second, and were unfortunate not to score on at least three occasions.

Detroit very much looked like a beatable team in that stretch of the game, but like the champions they are found a way to come back. They may have been lucky given three fortunate, home-ice bounces, but ultimately they made Pittsburgh pay for not coming through when they were the ones with advantage. You've got to be good to be lucky, and lucky to be good.

It could be a very costly lesson for Pittsburgh. The winner of game one of the finals historically wins the Stanley Cup 78.3% of the time. When it is the home team that wins game one, such as Detroit is, the winning percentage increases to 87.8%. History suggests the likelihood of Detroit winning game two now is 67.3%.

Sid Needs To Improve

Sidney Crosby had 25 shifts in game one, good for 22:35 minutes of ice time. Other than one goal post while in tight, Crosby was for the most part blanketed. He registered 0 points, just 2 shots, and was -1.

Crosby was double-teamed by Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom on almost every shift. Zetterberg's game was excellent, but the understated greatness of Lidstrom is the real reason Crosby was kept in check.

Malkin Too

Considering Evgeni Malkin largely escaped the checking of Zetterberg and Lidstrom, Pittsburgh really needed him to score in game one. He set up Ruslan Fedotenko's goal, but he only had 4 shots in over 23 minutes of play. Good job by Val Filpulla.

Malkin's best chance was the breakaway. Had he buried that Pittsburgh would have won game one.

Osgood Great

Actually, I thought Chris Osgood was less than great in game one, which many people will tell is exactly what he is. Despite leaving a few dangerous rebounds, Ozzie does what he does best - he found a way to win. He is now 9-2 in Stanley Cup Finals player, a .818 winning percentage that ranks him as the best amongst the 34 goalies in history with at least 10 decisions in the finals.

Chris Osgood may not be great, but it is getting harder and harder to leave him outside of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Lopsided Face Offs

Detroit dominated the face off circle, winning 39 for 55. It is a whole lot easier to play when you start most of the plays with the puck.

Home Ice Advantage

I have not crunched any numbers, but it seems to me that home ice advantage is not quite what it used to be. In this day and age of cookie cutter rinks it seems there is no real advantage, except for the fan support and maybe ice conditions in the warmer climates.

There used to be rinks that were smaller than others (Boston, Buffalo) and many rinks had different dimensions in the corners and in the height of the glass. Rinks also had different boards, some more forgiving than others, which sometimes dictated the physicality level of the games.

But now the rinks are all the same, eliminating these quirky advantages. All, except Detroit's Joe Louis Arena, one of the oldest buildings in hockey nowadays.

Detroit has the same dimensions, same glass and even the same boards, but for whatever reason pucks bounce off the bottom of the boards in a much livelier fashion than in any other rink. Detroit knows this, and uses this to their advantage, as evidenced in game one. They very literally manufacture their own lucky bounces.

Maybe that is why Detroit is good in this modern era - home ice advantage.

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