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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Let's All Just Take a Step Back by @kjcmalakai

Like most Penguins fans, I'm pretty excited about the hot start.  So far, the changes that we have been reading about for the better part of the summer are all that we could have hoped for and more.  Stretch passes are a thing of the past and defensemen (gasp) are allowed to carry the puck and join the play in the offensive zone.  The Penguins have scored eleven goals in two games and Sid (no longer) the Kid has three goals and three assists to lead what is an early season offensive juggernaut.  Olli Maatta and Pascal Dupuis look as though they are suffering no ill effects from their respective injuries and whatever had ailed Evgeni Malkin keeping him out of training camp seems to be a non-issue.

With all of that being said, not everything is sunshine and unicorns for the Penguins.  The penalty kill has been a disappointment, to say the least, operating at 54.6%.  Furthermore, despite scoring 11 goals, the Penguins have also given up 6.  There have only been 2 regular season games played thus far, but extrapolated over an 82 game season, the Penguins are on pace to allow 246 goals against.  Can the Penguins be successful allowing so many goals?  History shows that yes, they can, especially if they continue scoring at the 5.5 goals per game pace that they are currently on for a projected 82 game season total of an astonishing 451 goals.  

Below is a list of past Presidents Trophy winners:

The team that jumps out at me from this list is the 2009-2010 Washington Capitals.  This was another high powered offensive team, scoring the most goals since the mid-90's, but also allowing 2.84 goals against per game.  The Penguins are currently playing this fire wagon style of hockey in which they say that they are just simply going to outscore the competition.  There is nothing objectively wrong with that style, especially because it is fun and exciting to watch, and can lead to a lot of regular season success.  A major problem with it is that it hasn't worked lately in the postseason.  As seen in the list above, the offensive minded Presidents Trophy winning 2009-2010 Washington Capitals bowed out of the Stanley Cup playoffs in the first round.  So when I asked the question if the Penguins could be successful allowing 3 goals per game and said yes, I meant that they could have regular season success.

Anyone that watches hockey knows that the game changes once the playoffs start and the focus is more on team defense and goaltending.  After all, a hot goaltender can carry a team through a series, if not all the way to the Stanley Cup.  Jaroslav Halak and the Montreal Canadiens did just that to the Washington Capitals in the first round of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Below is a list of past Stanley Cup winners:

What I've added to this list are the league rankings for goals scored and goals against.  Over the past five seasons, the lowest league ranking for goals against for a Stanley Cup winning team is 5th, with the past two winners being 1st.  This current trend is troubling, to say the least, when looking at the defensive philosophy of the Penguins so far this season, particularly the penalty kill.  Of the 6 goals that Penguins have allowed, 5 have come on an opponents' man advantage.  Kind of ironically, the 3 Stanley Cup winning Penguins teams have the 3 lowest league rankings for goals allowed at 18th, 20th, and 18th, bucking the current defensive trend.

Do I think that the Penguins will keep up their current offensive and defensive pace for the entire season?  No, especially once the league gets enough tape to dissect what the Penguins are doing offensively.  The offensive numbers will come down, but still be among the league leaders, if not leading the league, just not at the current 5.5 goal per game average.  The defensive numbers are what really need to improve.  The Penguins can still win, and win a lot, even if they score less goals per game.  The Penguins have shown in the past that they can win Stanley Cups with an inferior defense, but having an inferior defense and being able to win the Stanley Cup appears to be more of an anomaly, especially for the winners over the past 5 seasons.

So, let's all just take a step back and look at what we have seen through 2 games objectively.  If the Penguins continue to just try to simply outscore teams, we will be in store for an incredibly entertaining and potentially Presidents Trophy winning regular season.  When it comes to the playoffs, however, the Penguins are not likely to advance very far playing the same style of hockey.  Somewhere along the way, the Penguins need to strike a balance between offense and defense if they hope to bring home a fourth Stanley Cup.

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