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Monday, April 7, 2014

'Numbers Never Lie - Pittsburgh Penguins' Crosby and more by @PandaPSU

With a little over a week to go in the regular season, it is time to start thinking playoffs. The Penguins will enter the postseason with the second seed from the Eastern Conference. They are likely to top 50 wins over the next week, and they have already eclipsed the 100 point mark on the season. In the first season of the Metropolitan division, the Pens clinched pretty early on. Of course they have a very talented roster, but they enter the postseason without much confidence they will win a playoff series against the most likely first-round opponent in Detroit, much less win another Stanley Cup. Over the rest of the article, I will talk about various stats and trends that have plagued the Penguins since the Olympic break and shed some light on why many fans have low expectations this postseason. WARNING: This is going to be ugly.

(Photo courtesy of theguardian.com)
1. The Penguins are 10-9-2 since the Olympic break

That's a .476 win percentage since the break, and prior to the Olympics, the Pens were clicking at a .690 win percentage. There are obviously multiple reasons for this, and I will get to more as I go through, but let's focus on the basics. First, let's look at scoring. In the 58 games prior to the Olympic break, the Pens were near the top of the league with 3.16 goals for per game. Since the Olympic break, that number has fallen to 2.57 goals for per game. Additionally, the pre-Olympics GAA number was 2.38, and that number post-Olympics is 2.81 GAA. Not a surprise, but the Penguins are scoring a little over half a goal less per game, and they are letting in almost a half a goal more per game. Shots per game are also down from 30.26 pre-Olympics to 27.86 post-Olympics. During this stretch, the Penguins also had their only two games of the year where they were held to under 20 shots, 19 vs. Nashville and 17 vs. Anaheim (shockingly, these were both wins). It is pretty easy to see one of the reasons the Penguins are not winning as many games. They are not generating as many shots, therefore they are scoring less. To compound the issue, they are letting in more goals per game as well.

(Photo courtesy of the timesunion.com)
2. The Penguins special teams have dropped off since the break

A quick glance at the Penguins season totals and it shows the number one ranked power play unit and the number three ranked penalty kill. So, no reason to worry, right? Truth is that the Pens largely rode their gawdy numbers pre-Olympics, and they have faltered since then. Prior to the break, the Pens were earning 3.22 power plays per game and clicking at a 25.67%. Since the break, the Pens number of power plays per game has actually gone up to 3.67, but they are only at 18.18%. That includes a 0-6 effort against Chicago in the Stadium Series, and a 0-7 effort against the Kings on March 27. As for the penalty kill, the team was giving up 3.05 power plays per game prior to the break and killing off penalties at 87%. Since the break, the power plays given up has risen to 3.24 chances per game, and the penalty kill unit is only at 82.4%. Many of these numbers cannot be explained by injuries as the Penguins have dealt with injuries all year long. The first power play unit has had Crosby and Kunitz, on it consistently and players like Malkin and Neal on it for the majority. It is a unit that is still deadly, but will need pick up its collective game for the postseason. It is also a unit that will likely do better now that Martin has returned, and could get more of a boost when Letang returns. As for the penalty kill, the unit is not doing badly, but they have struggled a bit since the break. I really like what a player like Gibbons brings to the table with his speed. Having him on the ice means teams cannot cheat at the blue-line as much as when players like Adams or Glass are out there. It would also help a unit that has only scored 4 short-handed goals (3 Sutter, 1 Maatta), which is 24th in the NHL. This unit should also get a boost once Marcel Goc returns to the lineup.

3. The Penguins are still relying heavily on Sidney Crosby

The Penguins are 4-16-1 for a .190 win percentage when Crosby fails to register a point, or does not play as was the case Sunday night. How important is it for Crosby to register at least one goal or assist? The Penguins record when Crosby has exactly one point is 18-8-2 for a .643 win percentage. Prior to the Olympic break, Crosby had 13 games out of the 58 played where he was held without a point, or once every 4.46 games. Since the Olympic break, he has had 7 games out of the 20 he has played where he has been held scoreless, or once every 2.86 games. By the way, as you may expect, the more Crosby scores, the better the Penguins record is. Even with two points per game, the team's record is 15-0-2. More than that? The team has not lost when Crosby's registers 3 or more points going 13-0-0. The simple fact is that as Crosby goes, so do the Penguins. While it seems like common sense, it would serve the team well to get him on the ice and involved. Even just registering one point is helpful, but if he registers two or more, the team barely ever loses (28-0-2). It is pretty easy to see why the Hart race should not even be a discussion. By the way, he now has 30 multi-point games, which is tops in the NHL.

4. Luck has not been on the Penguins side

As you may be aware, PDO is the sum of a player or team's on-ice shooting percentage and on-ice save percentage.  It is an advanced metric that attempts to account for luck as a player's number is higher if he is on the ice when his team scores, and the number drops if he is on the ice when his team gives up a goal. It is way to see how a team or player is doing throughout the season. There are always highs and lows, but the numbers usually normalize and gravitate back toward the mean of 1000. From the Chipped Ice Blog of Rob Rossi, Jesse Marshall breaks down PDO since the Olympic break and what to expect heading into the playoffs:
"Heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs with momentum is key. So with the Penguins seemingly struggling the last few games, what does PDO tell us about the Penguins stretch run?
Let’s start with defensemen Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi, both of whom have found themselves in some less-than-fortunate situations this month. Orpik finds himself at a recent low of 991 and Scuderi coming in at the mean of 1000. The study of PDO tells us that these numbers might continue to drop some, but should level out and begin to increase again in the near future.
Winger Lee Stempniak is a great case study on this number. When he was traded to the Penguins on March 5, Stempniak rang in at a team low of 867 ­– a testament to the struggles the Calgary Flames this season. Over the course of the month, his PDO has increased to 952 and continues to increase. Playing with center Sidney Crosby is enough to turn any player’s situation around, but we can expect Stempniak to level off a bit as the playoffs approach.
On a big picture level, the Penguins have seen their team PDO drop significantly this month. Crosby and defenseman Matt Niskanen, both of whom held PDO numbers above 1100 throughout this season, have dropped to 1003 and 1000 respectively. In fact, the Penguins currently have several players who find themselves right at the mean of 1000 for PDO: Olli Maatta, Brandon Sutter, Joe Vitale, Jussi Jokinen, Evgeni Malkin, and Scuderi are all experiencing regressions to the mean of 1000.
If the history of PDO is accurate whatsoever, and we have plenty of evidence to believe it is, the Penguins slump should level off right as the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin. In fact, as a team, the Penguins PDO has dropped to 1004. As a club who generally operates above the league average, we might just see the Penguins heat up at exactly the right time."
(Photo courtesy of Yahoo.com)
Well, that was depressing huh? It has not been a very good stretch for the Penguins since the Olympic break. Sure they will be getting many of their injured players back in time for Detroit or Columbus in the first round, but will it matter? Many fans have pointed to the fact the Penguins have not had much to play for the past month since they essentially had the Metropolitan division wrapped up back in February. Not to worry, once everyone will be healthy, the team will be fine. I do not personally believe a team can just flip a switch and start playing well in mid-April. Habits are called that for a reason. They are things that become engrained in a team, good or bad, and the Pens have had some very bad tendencies the past month and a half. Can they flip a switch? This will certainly be the year to find out.

Rob Rossi covers Penguins hockey for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Catch his Chipped Ice Blog and follow him on Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

Jesse Marshall is co-founder of Faceoff-Factor, a site that breaks down the Penguins by using nontraditional methods such as the study of advanced statistics. Read his work at www.faceoff-factor.com. Follow him on Twitter @jmarshfof

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