With the announcement today by Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock that forward, and NHL-MVP candidate, Pavel Datsyuk is expected in the line-up on Saturday for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals, a question comes to mind: Will Datsyuk's return help or hinder his team in their quest for a back-to-back championship?
Personally, I don't know what has changed in the last 20-some-odd hours to make Datsyuk's return inevitable for tomorrow. It is also a bit weird for Babcock to come right out and announce yet another line-up change so early before Game 5. I was under the impression that it is a strategic advantage to let the other team stew for as long as possible about your line-up in order to get them to spend time preparing for various different line combinations, in the attempt to get them to waste time. Now, with the proverbial "cat out of the bag", Babcock is setting up Datsyuk to step in as the "knight in shining armor and save [the Red Wings]" as Detroit Goalie Chris Osgood puts it.
In fact, we need to look at Datsyuk's inevitable return as a gamble, one that may ultimately back-fire and give the Penguins just what they and their fan base would go bonkers over; a chance to close out the series and hoist Lord Stanley's Cup in their own house, Mellon Arena.
Datsyuk has a paltry 1 G and 6 A in 13 games played this post-season, hardly inspiring. To compare, lets look at Phillipe Boucher (Pittsburgh Defenseman) who has 1 G and 3 A in 9 games. Perhaps it is unfair to compare the two, considering Datsyuk is one of the 3 candidates for the Hart Memorial Trophy based on his regular season play. But I think we need to look at just what Detroit will be getting out of this line-up change.
We have already seen a line-up change from Game 3 to 4, which resulted in lack-luster play by Detroit's various lines and an overall sense of weariness from the Red Wing bench. Would another change less than 48 hours later provide a better performance? Or would it cause the listing ship to take on more water? Marian Hossa seems to think that Datsyuk's return would help stabilize the team, and re-energize them and their home crowd for Saturday's game. To the media he stated:
"It's always tough when one of the best players can not play," Hossa said. "It would be a huge boost for the team if Pav can play. He couldn't go (in Game 4), and we're still hoping for the next game."
Grasping at straws or is this the Yellow Brick Road that will lead them to the merry land of Lord Stanley again?
With 4 games in 6 nights in the bag, the next 2 will take 5 days to play. But the most important game for both teams will be on Saturday, when one squad will assert themselves firmly in the driverseat headed to the promised land.