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Stars-Wings preview III: D and O

In case you'd rather not scroll, here's a link to parts 1 and 2 of this increasingly exhaustive study of all things Wings and Stars:

Part 1

Part 2

OK, now let me break down the offensive and defensive units and give my prediction. As the series goes on, I'll probably post TiVo-delayed thoughts as well as a few corny theories and observations. Enjoy.

1. Top End Forwards
Photoshop Credit: Zanstorm .

With all due respect to The Mule and Mike Modano, this category basically comes down to a battle between Brenden (with an E) Morrow, Mike Ribeiro and Brad Richards versus Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.

As much as I love the play of the Stars' troika, the Zetterberg-Datsyuk combo is up there with Crosby-Malkin, St. Louis-Lecavalier and Heatley-Spezza as the best 1-2 punches the NHL has to offer.

Witnessing hockey games up close gave me a heightened sense of appreciation for just about every team I've seen, from Peter Forsberg in one of the last games of his prime and Teemu Selanne during his post-lockout renaissance. But seeing the Red Wings in the flesh truly makes you appreciate the elite talent of Zetterberg and the stunning genius of half man/half computer Nicklas Lidstrom.

As nice as Morrow and Ribeiro's stats were this year, Zetterberg's year was just a few strides (and maybe one injury) short of Hart Trophy caliber. He managed 92 points via 43 goals and 49 assists, including 7 game-winners and an outstanding +30. Zetterberg and Datsyuk aren't exactly defensive liabilities either, being that they both are candidates for the Selke award (one of the biggest compliments a forward can receive).

I think that Morrow, Ribeiro and Richards are difference members and are very much for real. But Zetterberg and Datsyuk are practically from another planet.

Advantage: Red Wings

2. Scoring depth

Red Wings blogger Matt Saler made a great point that the Red Wings' secondary scoring has been underrated at times in his Q & A on the immortal Mirtle's blog. Still, when looking at the Red Wings regular season team stats it's still reasonable to say that the Red Wings offense is pretty top-heavy (there's a 50 point drop from Datsyuk to their third-highest point producing forward, Daniel Cleary).

Naturally, Johan Franzen bridges that gap considerably in the playoffs, and it's hard to overlook the top-notch offensive abilities of Lidstrom and former NJ Devil Brian Rafalski.

While the gap in secondary scoring might be overstated, it still seems clear that the Stars have more balance in their offense. Looking at their regular season offense, there's a clear hierarchy too but there's a lot more guys contributing around 30 pts.

The Stars hold the advantage in depth, especially if Stu Barnes can come back from injury. But, again, the gap is nowhere near as big as it might seem (and don't forget about Jiri Hudler).

Advantage: Stars

3. Defense

When your team features Nicklas Lidstrom, one of the most flawless hockey players in NHL history, you're pretty much always at the advantage. Lidstrom differs from many shutdown D-men in that he rarely lowers his game to Prongerian depths of goonery. Simply put, he doesn't need to.

Brian Rafalski is, in my opinion, a huge upgrade over oft-injured current Duck Mathieu Schneider, if for no other reason than he typically stays on the ice and off the gurney (I'd also say he's just flat out better during the playoffs). Niklas Kronwall also looks like he's blossoming into the force pundits have been predicting for a few years, which is sad news for people who continue to countdown the crumbling of the Red Wing Empire.

Chris Chelios is old. But for a guy who was around when Father Time was wearing diapers, he's still a surprisingly capable defenseman albeit in a reduced role.

Still, the Stars aren't exactly Swiss cheese either.

Smokin' Sergei Zubov might not be quite as flawless as Lidstrom, but he's monumentally important to the Stars' D. But Zubov isn't the story of this year's playoffs. No, that goes to a guy who burst on the scene...

Sleek does it again

Yes, that would be none other than the breakout defenseman of this year's playoffs, Stephane Robidas. Robidas frequently caught my eye back before he started really making an impact, as it was clear as day that the guy could skate like a bat out of hell. But it wasn't until this season (and the playoffs especially) that "Robo-das" started to put a nice little ribbon on all that promise. He helped lead the Stars past the Ducks when Zubov was smoking away on the trainer's bench and was on the ice for many of the Stars' biggest playoff goals.His 8 playoff points in '08 are more than all of his other postseason NHL totals combined.

Thanks to Sleek for the kick-ass PhotoShop, although I worry that giving him a Robocop-inspired nickname might doom him to a future full of injury and disappointment (see: Ed "Jovocop" Jovanovski).

Both teams are heartily devoted to defense, so this is yet another category where neither team truly dominates. Still, giving a "pass" is just kinda wussy material, so...

Advantage: Red Wings