Chat with EJ Hradek
Keep up with what Hradek has been up to through his blog on ESPN.com.
Send your questions now and join Hradek in The Show on Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET!
EJ, I heard one report yesterday that said Datsyuk may be playing tonight, yet everything i've seen on the web says he's out. Any word on what's going on with him?
EJ Hradek (3:02 PM)
Datsyuk is out for Game 3. Speaking to coach Babcock, they had a positive medical report concerning him Monday. I talked to Datsuyk recently after he skated by himself at the arena in Pittsburgh, and he feels terrific. I asked him about the possibility of playing in Game 4. Babcock told me there's an outside chance of that happening.
Hey EJ! I love my Pens but it seems to me that the Penguins have taken themseves out of their strength by trying to be this aggressive physical team, especially Crosby. Is this a product of what the Penguins are trying to do or what the Red Wings are forcing them to do?
EJ Hradek (3:04 PM)
I think that the Red Wings play really strong whistle-to-whistle. They are right on top of you all the time, and the key to their success is that they give you so little room to operate. When guys are right on top of it like that, you will have physical confrontation. Obviously guys don't want to be beaten off the puck, and there have been times in the first two games when they have pushed the Red Wings, but there have been times when they have been better and more opportunistic, and that has been the difference.
If Osgood continues at his current pace will he receive the Conn Smythe? If so, do you think he deserves it?
EJ Hradek (3:05 PM)
I think Chris will be a candidate as they continue on their current path. The Red Wings as always have several candidates for such an honor, and I'll be curious to see how the voting goes. He's been very deserving, going back to the first ten minutes of Game 1. The Blue Jackets really tested the Red Wings, and Osgood made several good saves at the right time.
Evan (Los Angeles)
How big are these next two games in deciding Fleury's future as a Penguin?
EJ Hradek (3:06 PM)
Not big at all. He's signed for a long-term contract, and they like him. If he struggles, I don't think they are ready to throw him overboard. He has given them good reason to have faith that he can get the job done. His ability as a goaltender is still growing and getting better. I expect him to play well the rest of the series.
Why does the NHL have such a tough time understanding their own rulebook? From letting players skaters cover the puck in the crease (twice in 2 Cup Finals games) to not giving out automatic suspensions they just seem to struggle. Any thoughts?
EJ Hradek (3:09 PM)
I don't think they do. In the cases you mentioned, the plays around the case were bang-bang plays in which the refs needed to be certain of what they were seeing. If the refs have any doubt, they are wise not to guess. As far as the suspension, it's pretty cut and dry in the rulebook. It's an automatic suspension, but the league has the ability to look at the situation involved and rescind the suspension. A lot of times, they go one way or the other. In this case, the Red Wings benefited from the two on the ice, and the Penguins benefited from the league decision.
Brad (Pittsburgh PA)
There are other good defensive teams in the league (Minnesota, New Jersey), but what is it about the Wings that makes them so good in their own end?
EJ Hradek (3:11 PM)
They have a group of defensemen who are just excellent. Lidstrom is a future Hall of Famer, Rafalski is a great puck-mover, etc. Their squad has been able to jump up to larger roles when needed. The Wings are probably the best back-checking team in hockey. They take care of things on their end and understand their positions on the ice. All those things come together for them. They have an experienced goaltender who can help clear it out of the zone and move the puck to teammates.
Scott (Ann Arbor)
EJ, have a prediction for the game tonight?
EJ Hradek (3:12 PM)
It's such a big game. It's obviously important for the Penguins. I don't think they played nearly as well as they can play. I think the Red Wings will play a better game tonight, and I think they'll win.
Matt (Ft Wayne, IN)
If Detroit wins the cup this year do you think Hossa will stay with Detroit or will chase a more lucrative contract with another team?
EJ Hradek (3:14 PM)
That's a great question. It's a decision to be made by both the Red Wings and Hossa, because in the salary cap era, there are certain cap restraints the Red Wings have to deal with. I think Hossa has to be willing to work with the Wings with a contract that makes sense for both parties. The Wings have to consider what would make the most sense for them. I could really see it going either way, depending on how much Hossa is willing to work with the team to make something work financially.
Adam (Lake George, NY)
EJ, am I the only one in the world that thinks coaching is a major issue with the Pens right now? All game long, the Pens carry the puck up center ice, cut wide before they get to the blue line, and get trapped. The Wings skate too well to not dump and chase. It's time to put some hits on the defense to slow them down a bit!
EJ Hradek (3:16 PM)
When you're looking at this series, you have to give an edge to the Wings' coaching staff. This is his third trip to the Finals, and he's been at it longer. As for what the Penguins are doing, it's really an example of how good the Red Wings are in that they force you into bad ice. The Wings' guys are skilled players who can go back to make plays. A lot of times it's hard to put a body on them, as they get to the break quickly and execute just as quickly.
Brent (Houghton, MI)
Any comment on penguins defense? I think they have overachieved in the first 2 games and Fleury let them down.
EJ Hradek (3:18 PM)
There were some mistakes in there, but on the whole they were OK. Fleury gave up some goals he'd like to have back, but I don't think the Penguins' defense has been the difference one way or the other. When I look at their group compared to what the Red Wings have, they are not on the same level. They are limited, and being limited against the Red Wings is tough.
Mike (Pittsburgh, PA)
EJ, do you think the Pens have run into a team, the Wings, that they just can't get past - sort of like Michael Jordan w/ the Bulls, and Tiger Woods in Golf stopped so many other teams from winning
EJ Hradek (3:21 PM)
Right now, the Wings are just the best team in hockey. For this time period and right now, they have that advantage. They are just better than anybody else. The Peguins have so many great young players there and are really improving, but I don't think they are ready to beat the Red Wings. I think they are benefiting a bit from the Red Wings being without Datsyuk, but right now, the Red Wings are the best team. These two teams could be back for a third time next year.
Timely turnovers have been the bane of the wings play this year. Do you think it is fatigue this series is to blame or the agressive Pens forecheck?
EJ Hradek (3:23 PM)
Speaking to Mike Babcock today, talking about turnovers, we're deep in the playoffs, and he thinks the combination of playing better teams that are aggressive, that the ice surface is not as good, so the puck is bouncing more. That makes it tougher to handle which leads to turnovers as well. With the Red Wings, they will turn the puck over but are so good about getting back into the right position and being tenacious with their five man group that works so well together.
I can hardly complain as a Pens fan, but does it seem like Sid tries to be too unselfish at times, foregoing shots just to get other's looks?
EJ Hradek (3:24 PM)
I don't think so. Guys have a way they play. Sidney does a good job of shooting when he should shoot, and looking to make plays when that is the best option. I think he'll continue to get better at that. Some guys think shoot-first, others think pass-first...he's finding his best medium for each individual chance.
Matt (Wings Fan in Atlanta)
How would the Penguins have fared in the Western Conference playoffs this year? I think they wouldn't have made it out of the second round.
EJ Hradek (3:26 PM)
It depends a lot on who they would play. When it got to the final eight teams, I ranked the Wings first and the Ducks second. The Penguins were next. So I would be interested to see how they would have done against a team like Anaheim that is so accomplished. I think they certainly would have had a hard time getting to the Finals in the West.
Dustin (Southgate, MI)
Is it just me or is Malkin trying to handle the puck too long? Seems like he tries making all these moves and the Wings just get a stick in the way and he loses control.
EJ Hradek (3:27 PM)
There's a tendency for both Crosby and Malkin to try to do too much. It's natural for skilled players such as them. Malkin can try to be too much of a one-on-one guy sometimes, which is a bit of a nitpick on my part. When you play Detroit too, because of the spaces and holes opening and closing very quickly, a skilled player can be fooled into thinking there is more room. Malkin over the course of time makes good decisions, and I think it's tougher for any great player to do it against the Wings.
Reece (Rochester, NY)
As always, great work EJ! Assuming the Pens lose the series (again), what issues do you think they will try to address in July FA period, don't they need a winger who can score?
EJ Hradek (3:29 PM)
I think the Penguins are a team really searching for a little bit of an offensive start...one or two guys who can support Malkin. It's tough to find those guys when you are dealing with a salary cap. That is something that the Penguins GM Ray Shero will definitely be considering. Down the road, he might have to consider trading one of his three best players to make the team more balanced. I do think Shero has been thoughtful in the way he has built his team.
EJ Hradek (3:30 PM)
Thanks for all the great questions, and enjoy game 3!
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