Red Wings' defence frustrating Penguins
Smothering Detroit aims for 3rd consecutive shutout in Stanley Cup final on Wednesday
Searching for answers — and a goal — perhaps the Pittsburgh Penguins will adopt the "don't panic until you lose on home ice" theory.
The NHL Eastern Conference champions are loaded with offensive talent but find themselves without a goal through the first two games of the Stanley Cup final against Detroit.
At 120 minutes, Pittsburgh's goalless streak ranks third all-time for a Cup final, trailing only the 1945 Red Wings (188:35) and 2003 Anaheim Ducks (143:39).
Detroit, which topped the 30-team NHL with 115 points in the regular season, also allowed the fewest goals (184) and was first in shots against per game (23.5). Nothing has changed in the playoffs, with the Wings boasting a 1.72 goals-against average and giving up just 23.3 shots per outing.
"They don't give you much room," Penguins winger Gary Roberts told reporters on the eve of Game 3 Wednesday in Pittsburgh (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 8 p.m. ET). "It feels like they have five guys on the puck all the time."
"Being a former minor-league goaltender, I put a lot of importance on defence," said Detroit general manager Ken Holland. "And that's where we put all our money: on defence."
The top four Red Wings blue-liners — Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart — combined to earn in excess of $20 million US this season, which is more than the entire forward corps.
With a combined 41 saves in Games 1 and 2, Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood lowered his 2008 playoff GAA to 1.38 while his save percentage rose .939.
Malkin appears tired
A Penguins team that finished seventh in the league in goals per game in the regular season (2.93) has generated few scoring chances and little sustained pressure in this series while the power play hasn't connected in eight chances.
Centre Evgeni Malkin, who led Pittsburgh with 47 goals in the regular season, appears tired and confused and has only one in his past six playoff starts, while captain Sidney Crosby has nine shots against Detroit in this series and hasn't scored since Game 2 of the East final on May 11.
Having never trailed in any of their previous three series, the Penguins are clearly frustrated by the Red Wings, who have won 12 of 13 games in these playoffs when scoring the first goal.
Trailing 3-0 late in Game 2 on Monday, Pittsburgh lost its focus as Max Talbot and Roberts each took roughing and 10-minute misconduct penalties. Three other Penguins were sent off for roughing in the third period.
"They're easy to hate," said Talbot. "Last game was chippy and dirty and hopefully the next one is going to be too. They're in the way of the prize we want. We have to hate them for that."
Pittsburgh swept the Chicago Blackhawks in four games in the 1992 Stanley Cup final, while Detroit is gunning for its fourth title since 1995 and first since 2002.
"It's a huge game," said Roberts of Game 3. "You go down 3-0 in a series against that team, it's going to be pretty tough."
The challenge has already been steep for Roberts and company, who, according to Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, have yet to see the best of Detroit.
'We have a plan,' says Babcock
"We have a plan, and until that plan needs to be changed, we're going to stick with the plan we have," said Babcock, whose charges will attempt to halt Pittsburgh's 16-game home winning streak. "And our guys are committed and determined, and we'd like to have success."
In 2003, Babcock was behind the Anaheim bench when the Ducks were shut out by New Jersey in the first games of the Cup final. They forced a Game 7, only to be blanked by Devils netminder Martin Brodeur.
On Wednesday, the Penguins could use a Brodeur-like performance from Marc-Andre Fleury, who looked spectacular at times in Detroit and is riding an 18-game, six-month home ice win streak that dates to last Nov. 21.
"We're always confident here [in Pittsburgh]. We've been very good here," said Crosby.
But Detroit, which is 5-3 on the road this post-season, has greatly improved its chances by winning the first two games. Of the previous 31 teams to start the Cup final 2-0, 30 hoisted Lord Stanley's mug.