The 1-3 Pittsburgh Penguins: Why Simple Solutions to Complex Problems Don't Work by @DXTraeger

Example A thru Zed on why/how shooting through a pile of players doesn't work.
The game of ice hockey is difficult to statistically break down compared to other sports.

At the heart of the analytics nightmare is the fact that hockey consists of flowing and dynamic (that is to say, constantly changing) play that isn't inherently encapsulated like, say, a pitch in baseball and/or a play in the NFL (play stops before and after each of those examples).

To that end, because there's fluidity to hockey and a common occurrence of domino effects (one event leading to an immediate chain reaction of subsequent events), trying to isolate specific, singular elements of the game that have a high correlation to winning and losing is very difficult.

A lot of fans cringe at the mention of "Corsi" and "Fenwick" because the terms are usually vaguely described (if at all) and their relationship to the outcome/action is often mitigated by pesky "chance" (another word would be "random").

In the coming weeks and months, Pens Initiative is going to run a series of articles will explore terminology like the aforementioned "Corsi" and "Fenwick" with specific Penguin examples to help readers gain a greater appreciation for the things that make good players truly great, and give ammunition for hating the players we've come to already loathe (I'm looking at you, Rob Scuderi).

In the meanwhile, I'm going to take two common fan solutions for obvious Penguins' problems and explain why the answer isn't always so simple.

Problem with a Simple Solution #1: the Pens Won't Shoot the Puck Enough

The Gripe:  "The Penguins insist on skating around the perimeter of the ice, and choose to attempt risky cross-ice passes (usually through one or more defenders) in hopes of a NHL '94 one-timer for a goal.  What the Penguins SHOULD be doing is a variation of the ol' line "Grip it and rip it!" ala Tyler Kennedy, and score goals off of the rebound, garbage-style like every other team seems to be doing."
 
Catching Sergei Zubov in the act of shooting
was considered so rare, Upper Deck
made a trading card out of it.  True story.

The Complex Reason Why "SHOOOOOOOOOOT" Doesn't Really Work:  The primary problem with just shooting the puck is that the other team's goalie is really good at stopping unscreened and telegraphed shots....otherwise said goalie wouldn't be in the NHL in the first place.

To stand a chance at beating an NHL netminder, the shooter has to disguise his shot in some way, be it by:

Changing the Angle:  Moving to the left or right immediately before shooting the puck, thus throwing off the goaltender's positioning and direct line toward the shooter

or!

By Using a Screen:  Employing another player (teammate or foe) to obscure the goalie's vision of the puck's trajectory

or!!

An Off-Stride Shot:  Shooting the puck off-stride (most players draw the puck backward and push off of their back foot before shooting to increase velocity; an off-stride shot comes off of the shooter's blade, sometimes while striding on the front foot, thus catching the netminder by surprise.

....and don't forget about those blocked shots!  Unfortunately, the current NHL status quo for defensemen is to collapse into the shooting lanes, leading to blocked shot after blocked shot.  

In part, blocked shots are what makes shooting for the sake of hoping for a rebound a minor act of futility...

...the other half of the equation is that if a shot comes from the point (near the blue line) and several of the shooter's teammates are closer to the opposing goalie at release, if the puck is blocked and ricochets back out to center, the defending team has the instant fixings for an odd man 2-on-1 (or worse) scoring chance at the other end of the ice.

Of course, this doesn't excuse the Penguins for not shooting the puck when they have the opportunity on one of their own 2-on-1 chances, even if the shooter's mentality is one of the goalie owning the best percentages should the shot come sans any of the above conditions.

Problem with a Simple Solution #2: Why Won't the Penguins Just Trade Rob Scuderi to Another Team?

The Gripe: "Rob Scuderi has lost two or three steps, he can't contribute on offense, he can't skate the puck out of his own end, he struggles to make any semblance of a breakout pass, he isn't physical enough with opposing forwards, he always concedes the blue line, he doesn't do enough to box out his man in front of Fleury....wow, I can go on for days about how much he sucks...anyway, he makes way too much money and there are a bunch of NHL teams that need to get to the salary cap floor.  SURELY one of those teams will want him!"

The Complex Reason Why "Trade Scuderi" Never Happens:  ...actually, this one isn't particularly complex: nobody wants him.

At this stage of his career, Scuderi can't reasonably be asked to play reliable #5 or #6 defenseman minutes.  Even teams with self-imposed "management caps" atop of the NHL-mandated salary cap can't rationalize paying a non-contributor a sizable portion of the payroll to go out and lose them games.

It's not as though Scuderi's horrible contract and declining play is a secret that only the Penguins' organization and their fans know about: on the contrary, EVERYONE knows Scuderi is terrible, EVERYONE knows his contract is awful, and any team that would take on a trash heap like that (we're looking at you, Philadelphia Flyers) is just BEGGING to be criticized and laughed at by everyone that covers the sport.

The Penguins made their own bed when they brought back #4, and since Scuderi undoubtedly wants to collect every penny of the deal Ray Shero offered him, there's not much the Pens can do, especially since cutting him would still carry a significant salary cap hit of "dead money."

In short, Scuderi is too old, too bad, and makes too much money for even the cheapest of the cheap NHL owners to take on to fulfill a cap obligation.  There's simply no other team willing to take Scuderi and his deal on, even as a throw-in by the Penguins' organization.

 



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