The Penguins head to Detroit for their first visit since winning Game 7 of the Stanley Cup there back on June 12th, 2009. I find it just amazing how feelings can change in just one year’s time. When the Penguins lost the Cup to Detroit in 2008, we could not wait to face the Wings again during the regular season. Both games (Home and away) were circled in red on the calendar, and boy were we going to show them. The first game, on November 11th in Detroit was an amazing 7 – 6 come from behind overtime victory, and the second was a 3 – 0 shutout loss at home on February 8th, one of Dan Bylsma’s only regulation time losses last year. Both of those games had the feelings of playoff games as the bitter taste of the previous year’s loss was still fresh in both the Pens’ and the fans’ mouths.
This year, though, it just doesn’t quite seem the same. Maybe it’s because once you’ve beaten someone in the playoffs or the finals, you just don’t feel like you have anything left to prove to them, and the hatred just isn’t there as much. Maybe it’s because public enemy #1, Marian Hossa fled what has since become if not a sinking ship in Detroit, one that is definitely taking on water fast.
The team that was supposed to be the model franchise for building a dynasty is this salary cap era has taken its share of hits this season starting with the defections of many of the players who helped them get to the previous two Cup Finals. Mikael Samuelsson, Tomas Kopecky, and Marian Hossa all left for greener ($$$) pastures with Kopecky and Hossa going over to arch rival Chicago, and Jiri Hudler, unhappy with all that Detroit was able to offer him as a free agent under the cap, fled for the big bucks/mediocre hockey world known as the KHL. Had this been all that Detroit had to deal with, they might have been able to soldier on, but injuries to many of their remaining stars left them decimated earlier this season. Losing Franzen, Zetterberg and Kronwall for long stretches as well as Holmstrom, Bertuzzi and Lilja for smaller stints just crippled them as they were unable to replace them with anything close to equal talent due to cap restrictions. Another setback came when one of their surprise performers from last season, and someone who was expected to step up this year, Ville Leino performed so badly, Detroit had to ship him out to another team just to free up the cap space needed to activate Lilja from the IR.
Currently, Detroit is holding down the 8th and final playoff spot in the West. They have a precarious 2 point lead over Calgary but do have a game in hand (Tonight’s game against the Pens). It does seem kind of suspicious that no one wants to finish first in West as long as the Red Wings are holding onto that 8th spot. In fact, it’s gotten so bad of late with the Sharks and the Hawks losing what should be winnable games, that all of the sudden Phoenix has tied for the top spot. That would be the same Phoenix that isn’t sure where they’ll be playing their home games from one season to the next.
Getting back to tonight’s game. With the combination of us having beaten the Wings in the Finals last year, Hossa no longer being there to boo incessantly, and the Wings just being a pathetic excuse for a hockey team this year, tonight’s game may as well be against the Thrashers or the Lightning. Just another game on the schedule against a team we should get two points out of. No excitement, no bad blood, just another one out of 82.
Wake me when we play the Caps on Wednesday.