#93: History is Against the Penguins
The Penguins are in trouble.
Those who have read any of my recent hockey-related posts or heard me broadcast a word on the subject of the NHL know that I am fixated on a particular hockey statistic.
The statistic is Shots on Goal Differential. For the hockey novice, it is simply the number of shots a team takes per game, minus the number of shots a team surrenders per game (the shots, of course, have to be on net). Over the course of a season, the average solidifies.
I continually run into doubters, saying that it's nothing substantial.
Make no mistake, there is a tendency.
In the past 10 years (and perhaps further), no team with a negative Shots on Goal Differential (henceforth referred to as "SOGD") has won the Stanley Cup.
In 2006, Carolina won the prize with a +0.7, the lowest in the decade. They faced an 8th-seeded Edmonton Oiler team with a +4.2 SOGD and were taken to seven games, even with the loss of Dwayne Roloson for the Western Conference representatives (who was commonly credited as being a key component in Edmonton's outstanding run).
Last season, six of the 16 playoff teams entered with a negative Shots on Goal Differential (henceforth referred to as SOGD). Of the six, five were eliminated in the first round. The only survivor (Buffalo), played a team with a slightly worse SOGD (New York Islanders) in Round One. Buffalo then scored a statistical upset, when they defeated the New York Rangers in 6 games (despite their -1.5 SOGD vs. New York's +3.1).
Last season in the Western Conference, Anaheim scored the series upset over Detroit, despite their season's SOGD average being approximately six shots fewer. Again, top-notch goalie play (Jean-Sebastien Giguere) is commonly agreed to have propelled the Ducks.
In 2008, exactly half of the field has an average SOGD in the negative. Tied for fourth worst in the league in that statistic (as well as tied for worst in the playoff field with Minnesota) is none other than Pittsburgh.
Despite all their offensive talent, even on the blue line, the Penguins still spend more time in their own zone, on average, than they do in their opponents'.
The one ray of hope for Crosby and Co. is that they were the beneficiaries of a blockbuster trade that brought Pascal Dupuis and Marian Hossa to the team, long after the negative SOGD was cemented. They also acquired a reliable defenseman in Hal Gill.
Hossa and Crosby have not been healthy at the same time for long, so it's impossible to tell whether that would have helped generate more shots for Pittsburgh and thereby alter the differential toward the positive.
Root like hell, Penguins fans, but know that the odds are against them.
And now, to the rest of the league...
Here, for your reference, are the conference standings with the final SOGD for each team:
1. z-Montreal -2.5
2. y-Pittsburgh -3.1
3. y-Washington +3.4
4. x-New Jersey +1.3
5. x-NY Rangers +5.5
6. x-Philadelphia -3.0
7. x-Ottawa +0.2
8. x-Boston -1.9
9. Carolina +3.7
10. Buffalo +1.9
11. Florida -2.5
12. Toronto +1.7
13. NY Islanders -0.6
14. Atlanta -8.1
15. Tampa Bay +0.5
1. z-Detroit +10.9
2. y-San Jose +5.5
3. y-Minnesota -3.1
4. x-Anaheim -0.7
5. x-Dallas +0.6
6. x-Colorado +1.4
7. x-Calgary -0.2
8. x-Nashville -0.2
9. Edmonton -5.1
10. Chicago -0.6
11. Vancouver -1.4
12. Phoenix -0.2
13. Columbus +1.6
14. St. Louis -1.3
15. Los Angeles -3.4
Based on semi-recent history, it appears that the New York Rangers are a sleeper team in the East, and Washington might also be poised for a legitimate run.
The only potential sleeper in the West appears to be Colorado, though they may possibly be a step too slow with their aging vets in the 2nd round against (likely) Detroit, or San Jose.
All that said, don't be surprised to see both New York and Washington in the Eastern Conference Finals, and top seeds Detroit and San Jose vie for the Western Conference Crown.
Taking it another step, based on the Red Wings' goalie play and Washington perhaps being on the edge of a burnout due to their remarkable surge and relative lack of experience, perhaps we'll see the Rangers and the Sharks for the Cup.
Expounding just a shade more, with New York and San Jose dead even on the SOGD (+5.5), we could see a 7-game thriller, with the final edge belonging to the Rangers based on slightly better team save percentage (91.1% vs 90.6%).
Feel free to argue, of course, but I would wait a round or two before becoming too vehement.