So Paris escaped Athens’ clutches and gets a chance to defend the title starting tonight against Moscow.
Commissioner: On paper, it looks like Paris should win. But the Cup will end up in the Kharlamov Division this year, I predict. Spartak comes at you from too many directions – it’s hard to stop a team when their defensemen get so involved in the offense – and goalie Jaroslav Halak is in a groove.
Rose: I have a dress made in Paris and one that was made in Russia somewhere, I think in Moscow, and there is no comparison between the two. In the Russia dress, I look like an overweight babushka, but in the Paris dress, I look like a model. (Editor’s note: That last part? Not so much.). On top of that, Paris is an offensive dynamo and Tuukka Rask will outplay Halak in goal.
Forwards: Moscow can skate four lines that work hard in all four corners of the ice. Their fourth line holds their own and their third line of Alexei Kalyuzhny, Jannik Hansen and David Jones could be getting more ice time on almost any other team. An Achilles heel could be the top line of talented Anze Kopitar, feisty Dustin Brown and responsible Chris Higgins. The trio produces points, but they are also minus players in the playoffs this year. Andrew Ladd, the left wing on the second line, scored 58 points in 82 regular season games and has stepped it up in the playoffs with 19 points in 17 games at a plus 5 rating. Moscow needs him to keep up the pace. A 4-goal game is considered below par for the Paris offense. They are averaging 4.63, which must take a lot of pressure of the defense. The Rouge Eiffels have tremendous strength at the center position, with Evgeny Malkin, Mike Ribeiro and Mikko Koivu all there. Koivu has even gotten fourth-line minutes during the playoffs, which seems unbelievable. He often plays with Joffrey Lupul on his left, and Lupul has scored 10 playoff goals for Paris, including some clutch ones. Corey Perry is the team’s second leading playoff scorer behind Malkin and has been a stand-up guy, getting into 5 fights in 14 games.
Defense: Moscow’s top 4 defensemen – Andrei Markov, Jason Garrison, Kevin Dallman and Duncan Keith – play a huge role in Moscow’s success. Not only are they all good defensive players with decent size and a lot of experience, they are all excellent at moving the puck out of the defensive zone and through center ice. Anton Stralman is almost from the same mold and he plays on the third pairing with big veteran Filip Kuba. Paris is getting a huge contribution from Kris Letang. The Canadian blueliner is tied for the league lead in goals (10) during the playoffs with teammate Lupul. Letang has scored powerplay goals and even once shorthanded during the playoffs. His partner is Alex Pietrangelo, whose well-rounded game has led to a plus 2 rating and 17 points (mostly assists) in 16 games. Paris’ third pairing of hustling Travis Hamonic and Ossi Vaananen are as good as the second pairing of Ken Kuusk and Jason Krog. Hamonic and Vaananen are plus 5-6 players who have scored a handful of points. Kuusk and Krog are slightly built, but Krog skates like the wind and has been plus 7 in the playoffs. Kuusk is young (19), skinny (172 pounds), not too fast and very conservative but Paris suffered when he was out of the lineup in the playoffs. He is plus 8 in 13 games.
Goalie: The backup goalies – Martin Brodeur in Moscow and Viktor Fasth in Paris – don’t get to play, but they are experienced and ready to go in an emergency. The play of starters Halak and Rask will go a long way toward deciding who will watch the other skate around with the Cup over their heads in a couple of weeks. Halak has been a glistening playoff performer for Moscow. In each of the last two seasons, Halak has improved his save percentage once he hit the playoffs. He boasts a 91.4 save percentage and is 12-4-1 this post season. During the regular season, his save percentage was an unspectacular 89.5. His numbers are just about the same as they were this time last year, but he has already played in 4 more playoff games this year with up to 7 yet to play against the defending champs. Rask has seen his playoff stats dip a bit since the regular season. He is 12-4 with an 89 save percentage, which is just under his 89.9 regular season percentage. But he has a championship ring on his resume and he knows what it takes to win.
Special teams: Their powerplays are equal if you look at the stats. Paris has scored on 23.9 percent of their chances these playoffs and Moscow on 23.2 percent of their. Paris’ penalty killers are third best in the league in the playoffs at 85.4 percent, but Moscow’s is the best, boasting a frustrating 89.9 kill rate. Chances are Paris’ penalty killers will be out there more every game. Moscow is extremely disciplined, taking just over four minor penalties per game on average. Paris will take between 6 and 7 penalties per game, if the statistics hold true. Perry, Hamonic and Malkin are Paris’ biggest offenders and it would behoove the Eiffels to have them tone it down just a notch so Malkin and Perry – the team’s biggest offensive threats – stay on the ice more.
Intangibles – The intangibles seem to favor Paris. Halak has not beaten Paris this season (albeit in just one game). Moscow won 2 of the 3 games they played in the regular season, but Brodeur was in goal for both wins. He stopped 36 shots and shut out Paris the first time the teams clashed. Paris won the Presidents Trophy this season as the best team during the regular season. And they won the EURO Cup last season. But Moscow General Manager Michael Banker has 21 championship banners on his profile and Paris’ Ralph Booth has 3. Both teams are completely healthy now. An injury could make a crucial difference in a series featuring two evenly matched teams.