Do the Penguins Rely on Crosby too Much? by @ExcitedBobErrey



In a refreshing change from previous seasons, Sidney Crosby has been in the lineup for every Pens game  so far this year with just 10 games remaining in the regular season. What hasn't changed is his dominance on the scoresheet, as his 95 points in 72 games have him 16 ahead of Ryan Getzlaf for the NHL scoring lead, which almost assuredly will win him his 2nd Art Ross Trophy. Making this more impressive is that Crosby's 1.32 points per game is the 2nd lowest of his career, behind only the 1.26 points per game he tallied as an 18 year old rookie. Not many players can dominate a scoring race when having an off season (by his standards), but then again not many players are as offensively gifted as Sidney Crosby. Despite not producing at the level he's accustomed to, it's possible that Crosby hasn't ever been more important to the Pittsburgh Penguins.


Penguins winning percentages with Sidney Crosby in the lineup


This season, the Penguins have gone 43-6-4 (0.849 winning percentage) when Crosby has recorded a point, the best mark of his career, yet they have only gone 3-15-1 (0.184 winning percentage) when Crosby has failed to record a point, the second lowest of his career behind only the awful 2005-06 team, which went 0-21-1 when Crosby didn't get on the scoresheet. Furthermore, the Penguins success (or lack thereof) without Crosby contributing in the scoring is a huge difference from the season before. While Crosby only played 8 full games the season before without registering a goal or an assist, with the Pens going 6-2-0 (0.750 winning percentage) in those games, the team did manage to go 9-4-0 in the 13 games (including the NYI game Crosby was injured in) he was out of the lineup, a 0.692 winning percentage. While the forward depth has been an issue this season, is it possible that the lack of depth has been hurting the team so much that they can go from 15-6-0 with Crosby not scoring in 2012-13 to 3-15-1 with Crosby not scoring in 2013-14?

Penguins per Game Totals During Sidney Crosby's Career

While the goal scoring has dropped from 3.38 goals per game in 2012-13 to 3.04 goals per game in 2013-14, the 2.47 goals per game allowed by the defense is the second best total since Crosby became a Penguin. The +0.57 goal per game differential is the 3rd biggest during his tenure in Pittsburgh, and this is coinciding with his second worst season, by points per game average, as a professional. Some of the difference in scoring can be attributed the decrease in talent in the bottom 6, though the defensemen have stepped up to fill the scoring void a bit. The team is averaging 0.54 goals per game from the blue line, up from 0.42 goals per game last season and 0.32 goals per game in 2011-12. While the secondary scoring isn't as strong as it had been the past few years, it doesn't seem likely to be causing the large difference in winning percentage between games when Crosby has a point and when he doesn't.

Team Winning Percentages for the Top 15 NHL Scorers

As can be seen from the graph, there is a big disparity between the team winning percentages for Sidney Crosby and the rest of the top 15. Crosby not only has the best team winning percentage in games when he's scored at least one point, but he also has the worst team winning percentage in games he's been held scoreless. He's the only player below a 0.200 team winning percentage, and only Phil Kessel and Nicklas Backstrom join him below a 0.300 winning percentage, although still well above Crosby's mark. Making matters even more interesting is that Evgeni Malkin has winning percentages much more in tune with the rest of the top 15 scorers. The Penguins have gone 31-11-5 when Malkin has registered a point (0.744 winning percentage) and 7-8-0 when Malkin has been held scoreless (0.467 winning percentage).


Malkin has missed 12 games so far this season, and Crosby has scored in 11 of those 12 games, with the Penguins going 8-3 in the games he's scored in and 0-1 in the game he was held without a point. Of the 19 games this season Crosby has been held without a point, Malkin has played in 18 of them and registered a point in 11, with 15 points in those 18 games (0.83 points per game). Of the 15 games this season Malkin has been held without a point, Crosby has played in all of them and registered a point in 7, scoring 11 points in those 15 games (0.73 points per game). Each player has received similar support from the other star center in the games in which they didn't score, yet the Penguins are 7-8-0 (0.467 winning percentage) in the games they've played together with Malkin not scoring and are 3-14-1 (0.194 winning percentage) in the games they've played together with Crosby not scoring. The Penguins are also averaging 2.07 goals scored and 2.27 goals allowed (-0.20 goal differential) in the 15 games Malkin has been held off the scoresheet, while the team is averaging 1.47 goals scored and 3.26 goals allowed (-1.79 goal differential) in the 19 games Crosby hasn't picked up a point. While the effect of secondary scoring can be debated over and over again, the impact of the team allowing an extra goal per game likely explains how Evgeni Malkin's winning percentages can fall in line with the rest of the top 15 NHL scoring leaders while Sidney Crosby can have much different results while playing for the same team.


After breaking down the stats, it appears the final verdict is: statistical anomaly. The Penguins' 0.184 winning percentage in games in which Sidney Crosby hasn't recorded a point is significantly lower than it has been in previous seasons despite the team goal differential being one of the higher marks of his career. While it's possible that a weaker bottom 6 is helping to contribute to that lower winning percentage, it doesn't explain then why the Penguins would have a higher winning percentage compared to past seasons when Crosby has scored. A weaker supporting cast dragging the team down in games Crosby hasn't scored should also drag the team down in games he has scored, yet the Pens' 0.849 winning percentage when Crosby registers a point is the highest of his career. It certainly doesn't help that some of the team's worst defensive games have coincided with Crosby being held off the scoresheet, and while the Penguins are always going to be more likely to win when their top players are scoring goals, as is any other team, it seems the team's great record when Crosby scores and awful record when he doesn't isn't reflective of an over-reliance on Sidney Crosby as much as it's a statistical oddity that should correct itself over time.
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