2010-2011 NHL season preview: Detroit Red Wings

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nicklaslidstrom2.jpgLast season: (44-24-14, 102 points, 2nd in Central Division, 5th in Western Conference) The Red Wings’ season was a definitive roller coaster year. Injuries kept the lineup from playing at max power each night, Chris Osgood’s poor play kept Jimmy Howard in net most of the season while the team battled to stay in the playoff race. Once the team was healthy, however, they were the same Red Wings we’ve come to know in the past. The team got healthy at the best time of the season to get into the playoffs but both ran out of gas and ran into a scalding hot Sharks team in the playoffs. After back-to-back Stanley Cup finals appearances, it only made sense they’d get bounced out in the second round.

Head coach: Mike Babcock enters his sixth season asbench boss. While some would say that coaching the Red Wings has to be an easy job given the amount of talent there and owner Mike Ilitch’s zeal for winning, just remember the coaching tenure of Dave Lewis and call it a day. Babcock has done fantastic work for the Wings since taking over and has provided tremendous fodder for both bloggers and media alike with his quirky quotes. If you think Babcock could come under the gun at anytime during the season, you’re crazy.

Key departures: D Brett Lebda. Losing just Lebda as a depth defenseman isn’t exactly a crushing blow.

Key arrivals: F Mike Modano, FJiri Hudler, D Ruslan Salei. Despite salary-cap crunchiness, the Wings managed to improve the roster. Getting Hudler back from Russia was a good re-addition. Bringing home Modano gives the Wings a stable third-line center and Salei solidifies the defense a bit, provided he stays healthy.

jimmyhoward2.jpgUnder pressure: Welcome to the pressure cooker Jimmy Howard. The goalie kept the Wings afloat last season while the offense sputtered and the team played the majority of the season shorthanded. For his efforts, he was a Calder Trophy finalist and now any hopes of getting deep into the playoffs rest squarely on his shoulders. If Howard sputters at all, the confidence level in backup Osgood is at an all-time low and one that would cause panic in Detroit. Howard will need to be as good as he was last season to make the fans believe in him. Conveniently enough for both the Wings and Howard, it’s a contract year for him. Hello, motivation.

Protecting the house: Howard and Osgood will once again be the tandem in goal and ideally Babcock would like to get Howard more rest throughout the season. Osgood will need to do his part to earn the playing time, but if the Wings are in a better position in the overall standings than they were for most of last season, Babcock will be more apt to rest Howard on appropriate nights. The Wings couldn’t afford to do that for long stretches of time last season. After waiting for a few years for Howard to sharpen his game in the minors, he took over last year and played like the guy they thought they drafted in the second round out of Maine back in 2003.

Defensively, you should know the names here by now. Nicklas Lidstrom and Niklas Kronwall will be paired up while Brian Rafalski and Brad Stuart are set up on the second unit. Salei will pair up with young Jonathan Ericsson and try to show the ‘Big Rig’ how to be a better defensively-responsible blue liner. Rookie Jakub Kindl is shaping up to be the team’s seventh defenseman but don’t be surprised to see Derek Meech get his chances here as well.

paveldatsyuk3.jpgTop line we’d like to see: Henrik Zetterberg-Pavel Datsyuk-Johan Franzen. It’s fun to piece together potential lines with a team that’s got essentially three scoring lines, but the one that tickles us the most is one that puts the ‘Euro Twins’ of Datsyuk and Zetterberg together with the ‘Mule’. Franzen has 40-goal potential while Datsyuk and Zetterberg are two of the best two-way players in the league. Datsyuk’s ability to dangle through traffic combined with Franzen’s nose for the net and Zetterberg’s all-around gifted play makes this line one that any fan should want to see on a nightly basis.

Oh captain, my captain: Lidstrom has been the man in Detroit since Steve Yzerman retired and whether or not you think this could be his last season, he’s done well by the Red Wings throughout his career. Captaining the team to a Stanley Cup in 2008 and being the lead-by-example sort of captain that Yzerman was is the sort of thing that makes Red Wings fans’ hearts swell up with pride. Being one of the best defensemen in the league, even at his age, doesn’t hurt matters any either.

Street fighting man: If there’s something about the Red Wings that’s been a truth over the years it’s that they’re no longer in the business of rock ’em-sock ’em hockey. They don’t employ an enforcer, they don’t have a player in the lineup that stands out as a brawler, even on a part-time basis. If you go to or tune into games with the Red Wings hoping you’ll see some fisticuffs, you’re going to be left disappointed. That said, if anyone on this Wings team is going to drop the gloves even semi-consistently it’ll be either Justin Abdelkader or Salei. Abdelkader has developed into a sandpaper-like player for Detroit getting under opponents skin and playing physically while Salei has a mean streak a mile wide playing a very physical game himself.

Best-case scenario: The team stays healthy, doesn’t show their age, and is able to roll three-deep with their scoring lines while allowing the fourth line to create havoc on the ice. Valtteri Filppula continues his ascent as a big-time player. Tomas Holmstrom continues to defy science and keeps plugging home 20 goals. Howard has a repeat season and is spelled by a revitalized Osgood, providing balance in goal and allowing Howard to go into the playoffs fresh and without stress. The defense does their thing and Ericsson is  able to grow into the next big thing on the blue line. The Wings roll over the Central Division, challenge Vancouver for the top seed in the Western Conference and use their veteran wiles to get back to the finals to raise the Cup, which would be the 12th time in franchise history.

Worst-case scenario: Age catches up to Detroit and the key players who just happen to also be older start feeling and playing like their age. Howard hits a belated sophomore slump and Osgood can’t save the day while he struggles. The lack of immediate help in Grand Rapids can’t help out should the injury bug bite again and the Wings check into the playoffs a broken and prime-to-be-beaten team, exiting in the first round to a team motivated to get one over on their long-time nemeses.

Keeping it real: Last season was about as bad as it has been for Detroit when it comes to facing adversity and it’s something this lineup will have better experience in dealing with should it happen again. That said, this team shapes up to be more dangerous. They can roll three lines that can score, they’ve got stability on all three defensive pairings, and they can better handle the occasional bad start from their goaltenders. Anyone writing off Detroit because of their age is crazy. Much like when people predict the ultimate demise of the Devils, they’re always proven wrong. The same can be said of Detroit. With Chicago weakened a bit, the Wings are set up to reclaim the Central Division and be one of the better bets to make the Stanley Cup finals.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale of 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, the Red Wings are a 5. They’ve got all-world talent, they’re a deep team and they’re dangerous in all facets of the game. With the amount of talent in Detroit, it’d be a bigger story if the Wings weren’t a major contender for the Cup. As it is, they, along with Vancouver and San Jose, are the biggest threats to come out of the Western Conference and challenge for the championship.

Sharks director of player development Larry Robinson won’t return next season

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Larry Robinson will not be back with the San Jose Sharks next season.

A team spokesman confirmed Thursday that Robinson’s contract expires in the summer and that he will not return. Robinson had been with the Sharks for the five seasons, first as an associate coach for two years and then as director of player development the past three.

The Hall of Fame defenseman joined the Sharks in 2012 after coaching the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils. He won the Stanley Cup as New Jersey’s head coach in 2000.

Robinson won the Cup six times as a player with the Montreal Canadiens. After mixed results as a head coach, he was considered one of the top assistants in the NHL. He will be 66 next week.

The Sharks reached the Stanley Cup Final last season.

PHT Morning Skate: 12 teams will reportedly alter their uniforms next season

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–Adidas will become the official outfitter of the NHL in 2017-18, which means that some teams will make some tweaks to their current jersey. 12 teams are reportedly going to make some type of alteration to their uniform. The Bruins, Sabres, Flames, Avalanche, Blue Jackets, Stars, Oilers, Panthers, Wild, Predators, Devils and Senators are the teams making changes. (Sportsnet)

–NBA hall-of-famer Charles Barkley was working the Cavaliers-Celtics game in Boston last night, but even he admitted that he’d rather be watching Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. (The Score)

–The Anaheim Ducks went on a nice run to the third round of the playoffs, but for them to take another step forward, they’ll need someone other than Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler to make more of an impact, per beat reporter Eric Stephens. (OC Register)

–Not many Oilers fans were happy with the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson swap, but Larsson’s play this season some fans forget about Hall, according to the Edmonton Journal’s Bruce McCurdy. He writes: “One surprise was how well the Oilers scored with Larsson on the ice, the best of any defenceman on the team and behind only the first line forwards. That went a long way to explaining his splendid +21 on the season, this after his +15 the previous campaign with a weak Devils club was largely achieved through stingy defensive outcomes.” (Edmonton Journal)

Chris Kunitz scored two goals, including the game-winning goal in double overtime to send the Pens to their second straight Stanley Cup Final. Check out the highlights from Game 7 by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Here’s a pretty interesting stat via PHT’s Adam Gretz regarding Pittsburgh’s playoff success in the Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr era vs. the Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin era:

–It’s been a tough year for Craig Anderson and his wife Nicholle, but she Tweeted a nice message after the Senators dropped Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final:

Chris Kunitz found the fountain of youth in Game 7

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PITTSBURGH — Chris Kunitz has put together an impressive and often times overlooked resume during his 13 years in the NHL. He has been a top-line player on three Stanley Cup winning teams, he has an Olympic Gold Medal, and before Thursday’s Game 7 against the Ottawa Senators had scored 275 goals (regular season and playoffs) in the NHL.

By any objective measure that is a fantastic career.

During the Penguins’ 3-2 overtime win on Thursday to send them back to the Stanley Cup Final for the second year in a row, he played what was perhaps the biggest — and best — game of his career.

It could not have come at a better time for the Penguins.

Or at a more unexpected one.

Kunitz played a role in all three Penguins’ goals, scoring two of them, including the overtime winner, and providing the key screen on Justin Schultz‘s third period power play goal. As if that was not enough, he also recorded an assist on that Schultz goal.

He was, to say the least, a force and the single biggest contributor in the Penguins’ win. Even if he downplayed his overtime winner as simply being the result of a little bit of luck.

“I was just trying to get into a soft spot,” said Kunitz. “The puck fluttered off my stick a little, I don’t know if it touched [Jean-Gabriel Pageau] or kept going right in, but it looked like there was a good screen on the goalie, it looked like he maybe fell down, it just found its way into the net. Sometimes you just get lucky when you put one on net.”

Lucky or not, Kunitz was the unexpected hero in Game 7 and it came on a night where he seemed to rediscover his game.

Kunitz playing such an essential role in a big playoff win wouldn’t have been that big of a shock four or five years ago.

He has been a core player since arriving in Pittsburgh during the 2008-09 season and spent years skating on the top line alongside Sidney Crosby.  That presence on Crosby’s wing almost did more to hurt his reputation because there was always that belief he was simply a product of skating alongside the best player in the world. But he has always been more than that. He has been a legitimately good top-six winger that had also found success even when away from Crosby.

But on Thursday it was a taste of the old days with Crosby setting up the overtime winner.

“[Sheary] did a really good job bringing it up the wall and walking the blue like, and I think Sid was coming right off the bench,” said Kunitz. “When he drives it deep everyone gets scared and you can find that soft area because obviously Sid has great vision, and he put it right there. I just found a way to put it on net and got lucky.”

What makes his performance such a stunner this season, and in this game, is that it came at a time when his best days were clearly in the past and he had gone from being a top-line, core player, to being more of a bottom-six role player.

At the age of 37 that had to be expected. He was still able to do enough to be a useful contributor, but the consistent impact on the scoresheet wasn’t always there. Entering Game 7 on Thursday night he had yet to score a goal and had recorded just a pair of assists in his first 13 playoff games. Along with that postseason scoring drought he only scored nine goals during the regular season and had not found the back of the net since Feb. 16, a stretch of 78 days.

Then there he is playing the role of hero in what was, to this point, the Penguins’ biggest game of the season.

“He played his best game of the playoffs when it matters the most,” said Penguins forward Carl Hagelin. “That’s the type of guy he is and that’s the reason he has three Stanley Cup rings already. He’s just one of those guys you love having on your team.”

This is pretty much what Game 7’s in the Stanley Cup playoffs are all about. Anything can happen when a series and a season all comes down to one game.

It only takes one shot, one bounce, one play, one call or one huge performance from an unexpected player to totally re-write history.

In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago it was Bryan Rust, representing the next wave and younger generation of the Penguins, playing the role of hero with his two goal-game.

This year, it was one of their long-time core players rediscovering his past glory for one night.

2017 Stanley Cup Final schedule: Nashville Predators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

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The Pittsburgh Penguins might celebrate their hard-fought tonight, but they’d probably be wise to rest up. It won’t be long before they’ll face the well-rested Nashville Predators in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

That first contest will take place on Monday, May 29. The Penguins ended their series on Thursday (or, maybe Friday if you’re being a stickler) while the Predators get a week of rest after dispatching the Ducks this past Monday (May 22).

NBC and NBCSN will have you covered for what should be a fast and fascinating series with a whole lot of gold/yellow going around. Game 1 will be on NBC, Games 2 and 3 will air on NBCSN and then the remaining contests will take place on NBC.

Here’s the schedule in list form, as that may be easier to follow:

2017 STANLEY CUP FINAL SCHEDULE
Subject to Change/All Times ET

Game Date Time (ET) Pittsburgh vs. Nashville Networks
Game 1 Monday, May 29 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 2 Wednesday, May 31 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBCSN, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 3 Saturday, June 3 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBCSN, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 4 Monday, June 5 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 5* Thursday, June 8 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 6* Sunday, June 11 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Nashville NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Game 7* Wednesday, June 14 8 p.m. Nashville at Pittsburgh NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
* If necessary