Commentary

Machinelike Wings taking life out of Penguins, Cup finals

Updated: May 27, 2008, 9:53 AM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

DETROIT -- If we were the Pittsburgh Penguins, we would be demanding the NHL do wholesale DNA tests on the Detroit Red Wings. Because, two games into the Stanley Cup finals, the Wings are looking anything but human.

Machinelike, certainly otherworldly, the Wings have controlled every facet of this series and reduced the talent-laden Pittsburgh Penguins to a collection of matchstick men.

With the Wings' 3-0 victory in Monday's Game 2, the question isn't so much whether the Red Wings will win their fourth Stanley Cup since 1997 but rather whether the Penguins will manage to score at all in the series.

"They're obviously not giving us the things that we've been able to accomplish the rest of these playoffs," Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi said.

Scuderi, one of the most thoughtful players on the Penguins roster, was asked whether the Wings are really this good. "I definitely think they're that good," he said.

In some ways, the Wings' almost flawless play through the first two games has sucked the life out of the Penguins and out of the buzz that preceded the series.

It's the NHL's worst nightmare: A dream matchup that had created tremendous interest leading up to the start of series has been snuffed out by one team's relentless refusal to let the other touch the puck for more than a second or two.

Not that the Wings will make any excuses or offer any apologies.

"We wanted to come out and get going here tonight, and we didn't think we did that last game," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "We thought we were nervous [in Game 1], and tonight, I thought we were a little bit better in that area. And we got some timely goals."

Where do we start?

Well, when the Red Wings opened the scoring 6:55 into the game, they had more goals (one) than the Penguins did shots (zero).

When the Wings made it 2-0 less than five minutes later, the Pens still didn't have a shot on goal.

Pittsburgh recorded its first shot on goal 12 minutes into the game and did not have an even-strength shot until 5:24 of the second period.

The Pens' best chance through two periods didn't even result in a shot on goal and came about because a Detroit defenseman, Andreas Lilja, fell down. But Jordan Staal shot wide and a backhand rebound ended up bouncing out of harm's way.

If the Penguins looked shell-shocked on the ice, they seemed to be in denial off it, insisting they thought they had played well for much of Game 2.

[+] EnlargeValtteri Filppula
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesValtteri Filppula did his best Bobby Orr move to give Detroit a 3-0 edge in the third period.

"We showed that we can play with them," Pens netminder Marc-Andre Fleury said.

"Look at me. I am really positive," added Max Talbot. "We are going home, and that is a great thing. It is not like we lost two games at home. We lost the two away games. I think we got some good scoring chances. It could have went one side or the other."

Let's continue.

You have to wonder how much these two games have cost Ryan Malone and Marian Hossa in potential salary. The two can become unrestricted free agents in July, and both have endured less than stellar starts to this series.

Malone had a miserable night, muffing a Sidney Crosby pass alone in front of Chris Osgood in the first period, taking four minor penalties and generally looking out of sorts. His fourth penalty negated a crucial Penguins power play in the third period when he was ruled to have interfered with Osgood.

Hossa was merely MIA. He had one shot on net in Game 2.

The two weren't alone, of course.

Petr Sykora could be a candidate for the back of a milk carton.

Evgeni Malkin, though slightly better in Game 2, is nowhere near what he needs to be for the Penguins to have success. He did not register a shot in the game and has just one shot in the series.

This suggests, of course, that it's within these players' powers to simply be better or to have a greater impact by sheer dint of will.

But the truth is, the Red Wings are denying them that opportunity.

As much as Malone, Hossa, Sykora and Malkin desperately want to be better, Detroit's play is what has reduced them to an afterthought.

For the second straight game, the Wings got fiery performances from unlikely combatants such as Pavel Datsyuk. The quiet Russian sniper went after Gary Roberts in a mini-donnybrook late in the third period that was set off by a collision between Sykora and Osgood.

Although Datsyuk has shown a remarkable amount of jam in the first two games, the goal scoring has been provided by unlikely contributors such as Brad Stuart, who opened the scoring and has a goal and two assists against the Pens. Valtteri Filppula scored the back-breaking third goal after turning young defenseman Kris Letang into a pretzel and beating Fleury with a nifty backhand.

Between games, Penguins coach Michel Therrien radically altered his forward lines in the hopes of sparking something approaching offensive pressure. It didn't work. After Game 2, he suggested the problem was that the Wings were cheating.

"It's really tough to generate offense against that team," Therrien said. "They're good on obstruction. It's going to be tough to generate any type of offense if the rules remain the same. So, it's the first time we're facing a team [where] the obstruction is there and we're having a hard time skating to take away ice."

The comments were reminiscent of last season, when Ottawa Senators coach Bryan Murray, in the midst of watching his team getting eaten alive by the Anaheim Ducks, complained that the Ducks were holding them up. All that did was rationalize the Ottawa players' failure to compete.

Therrien also accused Osgood of diving on both of the goaltender interference penalties assessed against the Penguins in Game 2.

"I'll tell you something, I reviewed those plays. He's a good actor. He goes to players, and he's diving."

It was no surprise Osgood was nonplussed by the accusations.

"I'm not really concerned about it right now," Osgood said. "The minute the buzzer goes, it's out of my head. I don't think about the past. I just played between the whistles; that's all I do. I'm more concerned about next game than about this game."

The last time the Penguins were shut out in back-to-back games was in February 2003. They have been held without a goal for 135:57 dating back to Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, their longest drought of the season.

If there is a silver lining to this darkest of playoff clouds, it's that the Penguins have yet to lose on home ice this postseason. The bad news is this same Red Wings team is going to follow them home.

"We play a lot of tough buildings. We relish [it]," Osgood said. "We enjoy playing on the road and challenging ourselves to win hard, tough games. And our team is more built for those games now."

Call it The March of the Machines.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.