Puck Daddy - NHL

"The Beard is Back."

Seriously, that's the Detroit Red Wings' official slogan for the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs, as was hinted in the Puck Headlines last night and confirmed over on Snapshots.

Ugh.

Detroit's a team that's defending the Cup, one of 11 it has captured as the most storied franchise in U.S. hockey history. Isn't that your playoff hook, rather than facial growth?

Plus, the Red Wings haven't missed the playoffs since 1989, so it could be argued that the beards haven't exactly gone anywhere.

And when they won the Cup last year ... well, take a look. It's nearly an ad for the Gillette Fusion Precision Trimmer Blade. Their starting goalie looked like a fresh-faced Opie Cunningham.

So we're not too high on "The Beard is Back" for the Red Wings. Unless, of course, they get Katie Holmes to drop the first puck to open the playoffs ...

Slogans aside, the Wings are four points back of the San Jose Sharks for the conference lead and experiencing some feast or famine hockey lately. They've scored 15 goals and given up 16 in their last five games, a 2-3 stretch. Like clockwork, this has put the spotlight on the goaltending situation for the Wings and whether Ty Conklin or Chris Osgood will lead them in the postseason ... and Coach Mike Babcock remains frustratingly non-committal.

We ask you, Wings nuts and fans of the teams attempting to toss them from the throne this season: Which goalie, in your opinion, gives the Red Wings a better shot at defending the Cup?


Which goalie has the edge as we head to zero hour?

Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press examines the issue yet again, attempting to get Babcock to nail down a starter for the postseason:

"Conks won his last game, and I went back with Ozzie after his night in Calgary and then went back to him again," Babcock said Tuesday. "The bottom line is, it's Conks' turn now, so we'll go with him and see what happens."

Conklin's season numbers are better than Osgood's, with a .912 save percentage and 2.42 goals-against average. He has gone 25-9-2 in 38 games to Osgood's 24-8-7 in 42 games.

So is it a no-brainer that Conklin will start the playoffs? No. It is Osgood who has led a team (the Wings in 1998 and 2008) to the Stanley Cup. Conklin? At 33, his NHL playoff experience totals six minutes, played for Edmonton back in 2006. That's why Osgood remains the favored guy, despite at one point this season being given a 10-day "mental break." Osgood's next game will come either Sunday at home against Minnesota or Monday at Buffalo, and again, the pressure will be on him to show he'll be steady enough to tend net at playoff time.

Osgood may be the favored guy, but that's based solely on reputation. As Jibble pointed out, his maddening lack of consistent play has made Detroit fans and observers sound as conflicted as Colorado Avalanche fans who banged their heads against many a wall while watching Peter Budaj this season. That's not a good thing.

The best option for the Wings fans when it comes to Osgood is to root for failure for the rest of the regular season.

Look at the Anaheim Ducks. Jonas Hiller has earned the right to start in the playoffs, but there's a sentimentality and loyalty attached to J.S. Giguere despite his numbers not even residing in the same galaxy as Hiller's. The best option for Anaheim, should the Ducks make the cut, is to go with Hiller until (or unless) he falters and then give the team an emotional kick in the ass by putting the guy who won you a Cup between the pipes when needed the most.

Ditto for Detroit. Start with Conklin. Best case, he's your guy through the conference playoffs and into the Cup finals. Worst case, you flip him for Osgood and hope that the stars align like they did when Osgood came in to relieve Dominik Hasek.

If neither of them play well ... hey, at least you have a fancy playoff beard. Start your own alt-country band.

There's no margin for error in the playoffs, which means there's no room for crass sentimentality, either. Go with the numbers, at least at first. And numbers-wise, Chris has been the worst Ozzie in the last year ... well, until the ratings come in for that train-wreck variety show on FOX last night. If we wanted to see some has-been spray a bunch of people with a fire hose, we'd rent "Ladder 49" again.

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