Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Why defense wins chapionships

If there's anything we've seen during these NHL playoffs its that offense sells tickets, but defense really does win championships. I'm not only talking about D- men either; the defensive forwards and goaltenders also. Defense seems to be the achilles heel of all Cup winning teams, from the 1937 Boston Bruins, with the likes of Dit Clapper, Eddie Shore, Jack Crawford and Frank Brimsek, to the 2001 Colerado Avalanche and Alex Tanguay, Ray Bourque, Greg DeVries, and Patrick Roy. This year looks to be no different, with the Detroit Red Wings having the most experienced and most tenacious defensive corps, and being up 2-0 on the Pittsburgh Penguins.
But what about the teams that looked like they had it all put together but still lost out? Take a Look at the Minnesota Wild, who were riddled with injuries along the blueline. The Wild played a total of six playoff games, and played a total of nine defenseman. They had a total of 13 man- games lost due to injuries, which hurt the play of goalie Nick Backstrom, who saw a total of 170 shots and had a 2.83 GAA, averaging to him facing about 28 shots per game, whereas he had a 2.31 GAA in the regular season.
Let's take a look at the Philadelphia Flyers now, who got pounded with injuries in the Eastern Conference Finals. Kimmo Timmonen was a catalyst for the Flyers on the blueline, until he got diagnosed with a blood clot prior to the Finals. He only played one game, game five, and at nowhere near 100%, although he did play 44 minutes. Brandon Coburn was also injured, playing only 2 games in the Finals. Timmonen and Coburn made up the first defensive pairing for the Flyers, and with them being out, it opened up the door for inexperience. Kukkonen also played just two games in the Finals, which meant AHL'er Ryan Parent had to step in and play, forcing more minutes on Hacher and Smith, which is never a good thing and will catch up to a team eventually, and it did.
Finally, lets look at the West Champion, the Detroit Red Wings. The Wings have the best defensive corps in the league, which is why they'll beat the Penguins. The Wings have everything you look for in a team defense: leadership, skating ability, offensive skill, and toughness. Lindstrom is still a very good defenseman with a great shot and unbelievable hockey sense. His partner, Lebda, is also a solid physical defenseman. Chelios is a still a serviceable defenseman who provides leadership and demands accountability and is always in position. Lija is a solid physical blueliner who came through the Wings system; their ability to develop players overseas is unmatched. Let's not forget about Kronvall, who bangs the bodies like no one else in the NHL, and is really coming into his own. The list of great defenseman in Detroit goes on and on, no wonder they keep winning.