With both conference finals turning into apparent blowouts, we hereby cave into our temptations and begin to speculate about the prospective Stanley Cup final round, pitting the well-oiled machine known as the Detroit Red Wings against the explosive yet solid Pittsburgh Penguins. With both teams boasting a couple of high scoring lines and solid depth, how do we see the respective coaches wanting to match up their lines?
Matchups for Mike Babcock
Given Pittsburgh's situation with two number one lines, it's clear that the Zetterberg and Draper lines will be assigned to them. But which unit to assign against which? I'm going to suggest that Babcock will want Draper against Crosby, and put Zetterberg's unit strength to strength against Malkin.
Why that way around? Three reasons:
1) Crosby's line of Dupuis, Hossa, and Crosby is more defensively responsible, and therefore more likely to neutralize the Wings' own scoring from Zetterberg, Datsyuk, and Holmstrom. Draper's line isn't likely to score a lot of goals, anyway, so deploying it against Crosby makes more sense.
2) Malkin is less experienced than Crosby, and more likely to commit errors. In view of that, it is better to have a line out that can take advantage of those mistakes.
3) Malkin has a history of cracking emotionally and getting frustrated, leading to poor play, further mistakes, and penalties. This trend reaches back to his ineffectual world junior campaign against Canada, and has resurfaced in game four of round two against the Rangers. He also displayed related symptoms in game two against Philadelphia when the Flyers were laying the body on him.With their puck possession skills, Datsyuk and Zetterberg are much more likely to get Malkin frustrated, because he will be chasing so much of the time, whereas he would have a much better opportunity to carry the play against Draper's line.
On the blueline, however, the Wings should have the hard-hitting Kronwall and Stuart pairing against Malkin. They want him to hear footsteps and cough up the puck. Lidstrom and Rafalski can better neutralize Crosby and company via a more finesse-oriented approach.
This leaves the second line of Filppula, Franzen, and Samuelsson to get out as much as possible against Pittsburgh's fourth line, and try to create its own opportunities against the Pens' checking line led by Jordan Staal. Meanwhile, Hudler is quietly having a good playoff offensively, as well, and Babcock will have confidence in his unit against both the Pens' third and fourth lines.
Matchups for Michel Therrien
Clearly, even assuming Franzen comes back and is on fire, Therrien will want his checking line handling the Zetterberg line, as it has more offensive firepower, and at this point is going to be considered as more consistently dangerous. Jordan Staal's unit has proven very effective in this role.
That leaves the Franzen line uncovered. Therrien will probably feel most comfortable going strength against strength against this line with Crosby's unit. Dupuis and Hossa are defensively responsible, and together ought to be able to outscore Franzen, Filppula, and Samuelsson.
Obviously, Therrien will want Malkin out against Detroit's fourth line as much as possible, but given their limited ice time, he'll live with Malkin's unit out against the Wings checking line (led by Draper) - although Therrien will likely hope to use up some of the Draper line's minutes versus his own fourth line.