Jordan Staal and Sidney Crosby have one point between them and are a combined minus-4 in the Stanley Cup final. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH – The uncertainty surrounding whether or not Pavel Datsyuk will play in Game 4 continued through the day Thursday, but the Red Wings weren’t the only ones dealing with a mystery.
As of Thursday afternoon, Datsyuk was still listed as a game-time decision for Game 4, but he stayed out after the morning skate for 40 minutes with the black aces and other players who are injured. Under normal circumstances, that’s an almost certain sign the player won’t be playing that evening, but Red Wings coach Mike Babcock warned not to read anything into it.
“I wouldn’t assume anything,” Babcock said. “Pavel already told me that he’s warming up and planning on playing. Now, we’ve had lots of plans over the years. We’ll see what happens.”
Meanwhile, when asked while Datsyuk was still on the ice whether the Hart Trophy finalist would play in Game 4, Red Wings GM Ken Holland said, “It doesn’t look like it.”
So there you have it. Perhaps it’s gamesmanship or perhaps the Red Wings and Datsyuk truly won’t know whether he will play until after the warmup.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, meanwhile, are looking for some answers of their own going into Game 4 and both of them surround two of their best young players. First, what can Sidney Crosby do to free himself from the shackles of Henrik Zetterberg? And can Jordan Staal raise the level of his game to where it needs to be for the Penguins to be successful?
In response to the first query, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Crosby’s opportunities to score are down, but he continues to be one of the top Penguins in that category. Crosby has played well, but has just one second assist so far in the series.
“He had a lot (of chances) in Game 2 and didn’t get the result,” Bylsma said. “But he was around the net again on the power play a couple of times. His scoring chances weren’t as high as they were in previous games, but at the same time, his and Geno’s (Evgeni Malkin’s) were the highest on the team.”
After being far more net directed in previous series’, Crosby appears to have gotten away from that style of game in the final. And there is little doubt that his linemates, Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin, have to be better in order for Crosby to be more productive.
As far as Staal is concerned, Bylsma agreed with the assessment that he has been inconsistent through the playoffs. In fact, at times it’s difficult to determine whether or not he has even been in the lineup. Is it because he’s essentially playing on the fourth line with Matt Cooke and Pascal Dupuis, or is he playing there because he’s not producing?
“I thought Game 3 was much improved over Game 1 and Game 2 from Jordan,” Bylsma said. “For a guy like Jordan, who needs physical contact to be good down low to protect the puck, it’s not there. He was better in Game 3 and he assured me he’d be better in Game 4 today in the morning skate.”
While the Wings were unsure about Datsyuk, Kris Draper will definitely play in Game 4 and will take Justin Abdelkader’s place in the lineup. Draper has been injured twice in the playoffs and has missed the past five games with a groin injury and as a healthy scratch. If nothing else, Draper should be a boon to the Red Wings penalty-killing unit, which gave up two goals in the Game 3 loss.
“Faceoffs will be the key,” Babcock said when asked where Draper would help the most. “When the game is on the line, you’ve got to have a kill and we didn’t get it. We had an opportunity to get it out a couple of times. We didn’t get it 200 feet. Then, obviously as you get tired and you’re breathing through your eyelids you don’t pressure as much.”
THN Shootout: Game 4 Preview
PRODUCER: Ted Cooper
THN is on the road following the Stanley Cup final and will file daily reports until a champion is crowned. To read other entries, click HERE. Also, check out THN.com's regular video roundtable, the THN.com Shootout for updates from both Detroit and Pittsburgh.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.