They met last June in an exciting Stanley Cup Finals (OK, exciting after the first two games). The drama continued when Marian Hossa felt the Detroit Red Wings had a better chance at repeating this season as champions, so he took less money from Ken Holland and spurned Pittsburgh for HockeyTown.
Penguins fan have felt the hate ever since.
Back in November, they hooked up for the first time since the Cup finals and gave the hockey world arguably the game of the season so far. It was a game that made Gary Bettman's heart flutter; a goal fest that saw 13 tallies in a 7-6 Penguins' victory, ending with a Pittsburgh comeback and a dramatic hat-trick by Jordan Staal.
Since that Tuesday night in November, Pittsburgh and Detroit have gone in separate directions -- with the Penguins going 16-19-3 and the Red Wings posting a 24-9-4 record. Almost three months later, Detroit and Pittsburgh meet up again this Sunday on the NHL on NBC Game of the Week, and Marian Hossa returns to Mellon Arena for the first time since Game Six of the Finals when he was wearing a Penguins logo.
Puck Daddy gathered some Penguin and Red Wing bloggers to discuss the changes in their teams since the last meeting, trade deadline expectations, they thoughts on their opponent, and we finish things off with a prediction.
Discussing things were Michael Dell of LCS Hockey (MD), Frank D of PensBurgh (FD), ThePensBlog (tPb), Tony Ferrante from The Confluence (TC), Christy Hammond of Wingin it in Motown, (CH) Matt Saler of On the Wings and Fanhouse (MS) and The Chief of Abel2Yzerman (A2Y) fame.
1. What has been the biggest change (good or bad) in your team's season since November 11, when these two teams last met?
MD (Pens): Well, on November 11, the Penguins were good. And today they're not good. So I'd say that's been the biggest change. Injuries have played a role. Then again, lots of teams have injuries, but few have been able to duplicate Pittsburgh's level of suck. It truly is remarkable.
FD (Pens): Well, the Pens have dropped dramatically in the Eastern Conference standings, so much in fact that if the playoffs started tomorrow they'd be sitting this one out. There's a chance for them to turn things around and still slip into a lower seed, but you can rule the conference title out of the picture for 2009.
tPb (Pens): Biggest Change? The Pens season got uglier than Abel To Yzerman's wife.
TC (Pens): Goaltending and defense have both regressed noticeably.
CH (Wings): I guess the biggest change since November 11 would be the rise of Marian Hossa. In his first month with the team, he was playing well but he was still getting used to his new surroundings. We now see just how perfectly he fits with this team. He leads the Wings with 28 goals and is even fifth in the league in that regard. I knew he was good, but after seeing him game in and game out since November 11, I have seen Hossa forge a stronger chemistry with his teammates and score the key goals so I would say he is the biggest change (good).
MS (Wings): The biggest change is probably fan morale. Back in November, it was easier to write off the Wings' sub par play to a need to warm up. Now, it's becoming harder and harder to justify. The team wasn't playing great heading into that November 11th meeting, but they were still winning. Now, they're playing poorly enough that even wins feel like losses. Monday night was a win that provided hope on the goaltending front, but not on the team play front. Wednesday night's win flipped that perception on its head. The team is currently displaying a two-faced persona that's got fans thinking dark thoughts as the playoffs come over the horizon.
A2Y (Wings): The biggest change for the Wings has been the sickening spiral downward of Chris Osgood. As of today he sits dead last in save percentage at .880 and 42nd out of 44 in GAA. He lets in at least one bad goal per game and I think Mike Babcock would rather watch a Brothers and Sisters marathon instead of Osgood in net one more game. He'll whip his Conk out more often than usual and hope that Osgood gets it together, but I'm not hopeful on that front.
2. With the March 4 trading deadline less than a month away, is there a particular need you hope your team will address?
MD (Pens): The Penguins have to add wingers. Ideally, they'd get a goal-scorer and at least two legit NHL grinders to work the corners. Pittsburgh has become far too easy to play against. Milan Hejduk and Chris Neil would be a nice start. But I don't see how they're going to improve the wings without dealing Jordan Staal, Ryan Whitney or Kris Letang.
FD (Pens): A lot of people say Sid needs a scoring winger, but that's been the talk since 2005. The Pens may need some defensive depth, but outside of Orpik who even posed as a big defensive defenseman last season? Gonchar will be back soon enough, Whitney should "hopefully" come around then and perhaps the Pens can make a push. If anything I think the Pens need a veteran leader who is willing to step up and put some order to the mess that is the 2009 crusade. A vocal leader can only take you so far when you don't have the support of young talent, but sometimes, young talent can only go so far without a veteran leader. It's a Catch-22 really.
tPb (Pens): Unless by trading deadline, you mean time machine, the Pens are screwed. To address this season with making a big trade is like putting a dress on a piece of poop.
TC (Pens): Scoring, scoring, scoring. I'd throw Whitney out there at the drop of a hat.
CH (Wings): With how tight the Wings are against the cap, I honestly don't really see them doing anything at the trade deadline. The Wings are set on offense. The problem spots have alternated throughout the season between the penalty kill, defense and goaltending and in bad losses, all three. The Wings are not going to trade for anyone in net. Anyone who would be considered an upgrade will not fit under the cap. Detroit is going to either start Chris Osgood or Ty Conklin in goal and that's the end of it. I could see GM Ken Holland trying to trade someone to create some space under the cap for this off-season when he needs to re-sign players, but then again the Wings are a playoff team and would you risk messing up chemistry for cap space? I would bet that Holland stays put.
MS (Wings): Right now the big issue in Detroit is goaltending, but it's unlikely that will be addressed in any way other than internally. I can't see the Wings making a trade this year since they are so close to the cap and would be forced to uncharacteristically trade a relatively highly paid roster player in order to get anything worthwhile in return. Unless there's an easily replaced grumbler in the locker room that we don't know about, I don't see that happening.
A2Y (Wings): Yep. Give us a goalie, another defenseman and one coach who can re-teach the team to kill penalties. Other than that we're frigging good. Thanks for asking.
3. In your best, non-biased opinion, give me your take on your opponents' fortunes at this point in the season.
MD (Pens): I don't think the Detroit Red Wings are even going to finish the season. One day they'll wake up, and I hope it's soon, and they'll realize how lame they are, and they'll do the only honorable thing. Then Joe Louis Arena will be burned down and the earth salted so nothing ever grows there again.
FD (Pens): Well, Marian Hossa is a force. No one ever argued that, even though he left a negative aura about him after picking up with Detroit in the off-season. At the same time, and on the complete other side of the puck, there's Ty Conklin. Here's a guy Pitt fans were enamored with last season. A majority of people hated to see him go, but in terms of finances and pursuit of long-term deals, he just wasn't in the works. Now he's having a great season and once again posing as the backbone for a team who witnessed their starting goaltender fall to the wayside. Only difference being Marc-Andre Fleury was hurt last season and Chris Osgood simply sucks. Oh right, non-biased opinion...
tPb (Pens): Detroit is unreal. No way to sugar coat it, they get it done, too bad Osgood will blow it. Scary thought though, Hossa hasn't even started to go nuts yet. Jesus.
TC (Pens): Actually, it's kinda humorous reading Wings' fans "oh woe is me" comments. I wish the Pens were doing so "poorly" but having such a good record.
CH (Wings): Obviously plenty can change with 29 games left and the playoff race as tight as it is. However, it doesn't look good for the Penguins. They are two spots out of the playoffs as of Thursday evening and 5-41 in the last ten games. I must say that I am surprised that they are struggling this much. I didn't see them returning to the SCF this season, but to have a playoff spot right now is surprising to me. While I'm clearly not rooting for Pittsburgh, the league needs them to make it to the playoffs. As of right now, I think we'll see the Penguins grab the 6th or 7th seed in the Eastern Conference, but I don't see them returning to the ECF this year.
MS (Wings): I've laughed. Every time I read of another Penguin loss, a part of my soul that died with every viewing of that inane Penguin-themed Center Ice commercial comes back to life. I love that they're struggling. It makes the Wings' troubles easier to bear.
A2Y (Wings): Non-biased? They squeak in at the eight seed. Biased, they finish tenth. Pens fans go fetal for exactly 24 hours before they easily fall back into a routine of not caring one way or another about their mediocre hockey team.
4. Finally, it was 7-6 Pittsburgh in overtime last time around. Will this game be even close as exciting as the last time? And your prediction, of course.
MD (Pens): Hossa must go down, and he must go down hard. But that likely won't happen, meaning this game won't be exciting because, as mentioned earlier, the Penguins are terrible. I fully expect the Red Wings to win -- probably with Hossa netting the game-winner -- and for me to drink myself to sleep, waking the next morning in a pool of my own sick. (Sunshine) Detroit.
FD (Pens): That last game was insane. I'd like to think the score won't reach that level of intensity, but who knows? NBC would sure love the high-scoring appeal. Given the Penguins' dismal losses this season -- 7-3 to the Leafs, 6-1 to the Panthers and 6-3 to the Caps, I'm not ruling out the possibility.
tPb (Pens): Detroit wins 10-0. Go pirates
TC (Pens): Well, revert back to question No. 1, and because of that, I don't see the Pens hanging this time around. Can't call me a homer -- 5-2 Wings.
CH (Wings): I think it will still be a pretty exciting game, but I don't see it being such a high scoring game. Pittsburgh still wants nothing more than to beat the Wings after the SCF and the whole Marian Hossa situation plus the game is at Mellon Arena, which will make it even more interesting. I think Detroit will rise to the occasion and win 3-2.
MS (Wings): The way these two teams have been playing lately, I'm not sure it'll be exciting, though it may be close. Of course, both teams may actually show up to play, in which case the Wings should pull out the win on paper. I'm going with 4-3 Detroit in a bit of a disappointing game from a quality standpoint.
A2Y (Wings): Let's see. Osgood gives up three in the first. Pulled. Conklin shuts out the Pens the rest of the way. Hossa scores four. Gary Bettman and Pierre McGuire sit on either side of Sidney Crosby and feed him baby food with plastic spoons in between shifts. Wings win 5-3.