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Monday, November 10, 2008

Penguins VS. Red Wings - Is this just a normal game?

Tomorrow night the Pittsburgh Penguins are playing the Detroit Red Wings for the first time since the Stanley Cup finals.

The media is already all over it. Versus was running commercials
over a week ago. The Internet is buzzing. The sports networks are talking. People are expecting the highest ratings for a regular season game in Versus history.

But how do the players feel? Is this more than just a regular game? Would they take more pleasure out of beating the team that beat them for the Cup than they would out of beating someone else? What about the fact that Marian Hossa is now a Red Wing? Do they want to show him up? Do they want to make him feel that he made the wrong decision when he signed with Detroit during the offseason?

I would say yes, this is more than just a regular game. Sure, it's worth two points just like the rest of them. The team wants to beat the Red Wings just like they want to beat the Islanders or the Oilers. You don't win anything special for beating last year's Stanley Cup champions in November. But I think this game means more than the average road game.

First of all, Detroit is the defending champion. Even if you ignore the fact that they beat the Penguins in the finals, the Red Wings are the measuring stick. They are arguably the finest team in the league. The Penguins would like to know that not only can they run with the best but they can conquer them.

Secondly, the fact that the Red Wings stopped them from their dream last year must enter the minds of those that were with the team in defeat. It meant a lot to the Penguins when they defeated the Senators in the first round of the playoffs last year, after those same Senators ended their run the year before. It showed that they had grown. It showed that they had improved. In order to win the Stanley Cup this year the Penguins will need to be better than last year and one way of showing their improvement is by beating the team that beat them. Obviously a single regular season game and a Stanley Cup final series are two very different things, but psychologically the Penguins must feel that their greatest competition is still the Detroit Red Wings and it will do a lot for their psyches if they can beat the Red Wings tomorrow.

This is still a very young team. They still must have confidence issues from time to time and they still need to know deep down that they are among the elite in the NHL. Beating the Red Wings will give them the validation that they need. Beating the Red Wings tomorrow will let them know they are still a great team. They've struggled a bit during the early part of the season, but a victory in Detroit could raise their spirits and be the beginning of a turnaround for the team.

But how about the Hossa factor? Does the fact that Marian Hossa now suits up in Hockeytown mean anything to the boys in black and gold? If you ask them, many of them will say they did not take the situation personally.

"He was a free agent; people don’t realize that," Sidney Crosby told "He didn’t leave. He was a free agent. He made a decision. We’re way past that. It’s old news. He’s on Detroit now. That’s just the way it is. There are no hard feelings. There wasn’t anything bad about Pittsburgh. He wanted to go to Detroit. That’s basically it."

"He meshed well with his linemates [in Pittsburgh] and was playing great. I thought it was a great fit. But ultimately it’s his decision, that’s what we’re going to have to live with," said Rob Scuderi.

"He was a great teammate when he was here," said Brooks Orpik. "There shouldn’t be any hard feelings from anyone towards him. He was a standup guy when he was here, played hard for us. I wish him all the luck in Detroit. I think everyone wishes he was here this year and came back, but he didn’t so you move on."

But in some player's comments you can see that they would love to beat Hossa, to show him that he made the wrong decision.

"He’s playing great," said Petr Sykora. "He’s proving he made the right decision I guess. Hopefully we’re going to shut him down."

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette even posted an article today about how Maxime Talbot still feels anger towards Hossa's decision.

"Oh, yeah," Talbot said. "There's [anger]. You can't forget about something like that because everybody in the organization and [the players], we expected him to come back. We thought he was comfortable here, and he was really good with [Sidney Crosby as his center], and stuff."

"The way he left was kind of, [a blow] to the heart, but you have to live with that. ... You have to respect his decision, but, for us, it's not the best thing that could have happened."

So would it mean more for the Penguins to defeat Hossa tomorrow? I think it would. They're not admitting it and maybe they don't harbour any ill will towards the man, but I think they would love to beat him tomorrow. They would love to show him that while his best chance to win the Cup may be Detroit, they're not going to make it easy for him.

And hopefully they will.

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