Thursday, February 11, 2010

#142: Penguin Overview

---Work to Do---

Before I start this post, I have decided that I will "release" the audio from my interviews last month with the members of the Pittsburgh Pirates toward the end of the baseball season. That way, we can hear how ludicrous or prophetic each person sounded.

I realized (to my horror) that we're about 3/4 of the way to the end of the regular season in the National Hockey League and I haven't posted a thing with regard to the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

I don't know how my loyal readers have been able to survive without the constant bombardment of "shots on goal differential" (SOGD).

I have been unable to follow the Penguins as closely as I have the past two seasons, but from what I've seen and from some of the statistics I've looked at, this team is going to be hard-pressed to advance to a third consecutive Stanley Cup Final.

One reason requires no statistics backing: most of the core players on this team have played the past two seasons to the limit.

Remember how Evgeni Malkin virtually disappeared in the 2007 playoffs against Ottawa? That was after playing in Russia, and then defecting, and then learning the NHL, etc. Now, the entire team could be feeling the drain, and especially with some of them participating in the Olympics over the next two weeks.

While some might argue that the Pens are actually better conditioned to handle those rigors as a result of their two consecutive deep runs, I'd counter by saying that athletes are human, too.

Now to some of the statistics, and starting with the good news.

For the first time in a long time, Pittsburgh's shots-on-goal differential (the average number of shots on goal they take versus the number they surrender per game) is in the positive (+3.0). Only three teams are better (Philadelphia and Toronto at +3.3) and only one of those is significantly higher (Chicago at +9.4). Washington is only at a +1.6. If not for Toronto's league-worst save percentage and goals-against-average, they'd probably be right in the playoff hunt instead of dead last in the Eastern Conference.

Now to the bad news, the Pens are in the top ten in Penalty Minutes. It's difficult to dominate wire to wire when your team is semi-regularly in its own end killing penalties.

And Marc-Andre Fleury seems to maybe be a mite overrated. This guy sure thinks so.

Some jump to Fleury's defense and remind the detractors that he's a Stanley Cup champion. Unfortunately, another par-at-best goaltender, Chris Osgood, has three.

This season, at least, he has a save percentage of 90.8%, which is not good, especially when you're talking about a former first-overall draft pick. He also has no shutouts on the season. There are a couple of other regular starters who do not, but Fleury has the most starts of those goalies without one.

Part of the reason for his struggles are the number of shots he's been facing. Remember, the Penguins have a positive SOGD, but only just a +3. We know they get a ton of shots.

One reason for the Pens postseason success against the Capitals and the Red Wings was their ability to limit high-powered offenses to under 30 shots per game, whereas they'd been averaging over that entering their respective series with the Penguins.

Apparently Rob Scuderi/Hal Gill > Jay McKee/pick-a-defenseman.

If the Penguins are going to have a chance to repeat, they will need to find a way to limit the shots. Part one would be to take fewer penalties. I'm not sure what subsequent steps might be.

I don't think there's much doubt that the Pens will have the opportunity to defend their title. In order to advance to the conference finals, though, they will need to rectify their defensive shortcomings.


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