Hard to imagine the Detroit Red Wings could be better in Game 2 of the 2008 Stanley Cup final than they were in Game 1, but it seems that just when you think you have the Wings figured out, they shift into another gear.
Monday night at Joe Louis Arena, the Wings made the Pittsburgh Penguins look as silly as, ohh, penguins.
In fact, Pittsburgh was so out of this one that even though they managed to get more shots on net in Game 2 than they did in Game 1, most of the shots were unscreened dump-ins from the blueline.
Meanwhile, Detroit plays the game the way Minnesota Wild assistant general manager Tom Thompson always wanted his hockey team to play.
“It’s like the difference between European hockey and Canadian hockey in the 70s,” Thompson once said. “In Canada, we always wanted to shoot the puck into the opposing zone. Our theory was, if it’s in your zone, you can’t score. In Russia, their theory was, it doesn’t matter what zone it’s in, if we have the puck you can’t score. That’s the way Detroit plays. They always have the puck.”
Last night, playing that frustrating puck-possession style, the Red Wings took 34 shots at Marc-Andre Fleury while holding Pittsburgh to 22, mostly weak ones. There were times when Chris Osgood must have thought he was sitting on his porch having a lemonade as he watched the traffic go by.
Ozzie now has two straight shutouts to start this year’s final. That’s only happened on three other occasions — Clint Benedict of the Montreal Maroons in 1926, Frank McCool of the Leafs in 1945 and Martin Brodeur of the Devils in 2003. That’s pretty good company.
Of course, to give credit where it’s due, the Red Wings shutout heroics start with a defence that has been all but impenetrable. Nicklas Lidstrom, Brad Stuart, Brian Rafalski and Niklas Kronwall have been particularly good and the relentless checking of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom, Kris Draper, Dan Cleary and Johan Franzen has certainly given the Wings control of the neutral zone.
Meanwhile, the Penguins have spent more time marching to the penalty box than they have toward the Red Wings net. This March of the Penguins is not what Pittsburgh fans had in mind.
Of course, Pittsburgh fans probably thought Evgeni Malkin was going to show up (he was minus-2 with no shots on goal last night).
If the Penguins didn’t have Sidney Crosby, the outcome would be worse than a 2-0 deficit, two straight shutout losses and two straight embarrassments.
Game 3 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh. The Pens will have to win one of the next two to force a return to Detroit. They should get at least a split at home.
But then again, based on the first two games of this series, there is no guarantee.