Hockey After Dark: the "I'M NOT PANICKING YOU'RE PANICKING!" Edition by @DXTraeger - PensInitiative | Pittsburgh Penguins Blog | Rumors | News

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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Hockey After Dark: the "I'M NOT PANICKING YOU'RE PANICKING!" Edition by @DXTraeger

"...Where Insomnia Hits the Ice."
(Welcome to "Hockey After Dark," where dark satire meets parody, which means that nobody has any idea what the heck this article constitutes as, and not even Donald Trump's litigious army of lawyers– yes, that one came from the Department of Redundancy Department– can sue for libel because NOBODY KNOWS WHAT SATIRE IS!  Oh, and I also make fun of the Philadelphia Flyers and their fans)

First and foremost, let's deal with the 8,000,000 lb elephant in the room...
Let's call him...."Stampy."  (photo credit: Fox, "The Simpsons")
The Pittsburgh Penguins were all kinds of inadequate during their 4-1 loss to the Nashville Predators on Monday night.  The game was a reversal of analytic fortunes, which in theory support the notion that the Penguins had played their best game of the series based on possession and scoring chances...

...but the ground-zero truth of the matter, namely the 4-1 loss, says that this Stanley Cup Finals series may just be one that analytics get wrong, wrong, wrong, because the outliers and limits are dominating the regression and expected values...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Here are four things you need to know 24 hours before the Penguins and Predators resume their Championship Round tied at two games apiece:

1) MATT MURRAY HAS NOT BEEN PARTICULARLY GREAT.  Say what you want to about the defending Stanley Cup Champion netminder Murray (and please do note that I led with this, because I fully admit that this does & should carry a lot of weight), but he has been decidedly "meh" in this Stanley cup Finals series.

Murray currently sports a .902 save percentage, which handily extrapolates to predicting that should the Nashville Predators manage 30 shots on net, at least 3 of them will go in.

TRANSLATION:  Not ideal.

If you go strictly by the save percentage, which omits the quality of shot, whom the shooter was, deflections, screens, whether the shot came during an odd-man break etc. (note that I'm outlining the limitations of mere statistical shots on goal here), then Murray has been less than what you'd hope from your netminder during the freaking Stanley Cup Finals.

To put Murray's performance in these finals another way, the knock on Marc-Andre Fleury is that he's not the best playoff performer.  And yet...

...Fleury's all-time save percentage in the NHL playoffs is .908; or, better than what Murray's giving Head Coach Mike Sullivan and his staff through four games.

2) RON HAINSEY HAS BEEN PARTICULARLY AWFULAs I detailed before Game 4, Hainsey does not have a good first step (...or second, or third, or fourth, get the picture), has trouble making the "good first pass" (a pass originating in the defensive zone that springs the transition game/beats the opposing forecheckers), and is slower than Eric Trump (while skating, but possibly elsewhere).
This man's intellectual +/- is Rico Fata-esque.   The preceding is an underrated X-Generation Joke.
As noted by Bob Grove, Ron Hainsey doesn't have a particularly heinous +/- in the playoffs, but c'mon, he's easily been the weakest link on the blue line, and isn't contributing much at either end of the ice.

I simply don't understand what Hainsey has to do/not do in order for the coaches to bench him.  Hainsey has become the Teflon defender.

3)  THE PENGUINS' POWER-PLAY IS U-G-L-Y.  Yes, the Pittsburgh power-play has no alibi, which is weird because all of their faces are on milk cartons everywhere, but I digress.
Much has been said and written about the Pens having better movement, generating shots on goal and just overall looking worlds better than Games 1-3, but the ground zero truth is that Pittsburgh failed to score.

The special teams' battle has been HEAVILY tilted in the direction of the Nashville Predators, and unless Pittsburgh can shore up its leaking PK unit (don't let Nashville rotate around the point) and make the necessary changes to start scoring goals with the man advantage (COUGH- switch out Kessel for Guentzel -COUGH), the team in black & gold is in trouble.

4)  The Penguins' breakout system just isn't working, and needs changed.  As crazy as this sounds given that Sullivan's system won a Stanley Cup last year and has the Penguins 2 wins away from yet another championship, Pittsburgh has been clearly outplayed.

Nashville doesn't have elite forward talent, but they're making their mark by forcing the Penguins into unforced errors that allow Nashville to play their game, leaving the possession-driven Pens chasing the puck in their own end of the ice instead of pushing play and scoring via the transition (which has been their proverbial bread & butter to this point).

In regards to what specifically isn't working for the Penguins: in an ideal world, the defensemen are able to retrieve the puck in the corners and then either skate away from the initial forechecker or push the puck along the boards to a wing, who chips the puck onto the blade of the streaking center who then leads the Flying-V up ice.

Nashville is basically cutting the Pens off at the pass: the board-to-center chip/pass, specifically.  Pittsburgh just doesn't have a player capable of making the first forechecker miss, which would ordinarily result in a successful breakout because the puck-carrying d-man can skate through the center of the ice and force Nashville's players off of the boards, creating more passing options.

HOW Pittsburgh goes about changing its breakouts means everything.  The Pens have tried to compensate for their defense's struggles by having centers go beneath their own goal line to lend support and aid in clearing the zone (another issue of woe for the Penguins of late).  The problem with this strategy is that the center is often lagging behind, winded, or unavailable to spearhead a charge up ice, meaning that any pass through the middle of the ice is begging to be picked off.

Pittsburgh could opt for the Murphy Dump angle, which would consist of flicking the puck high into the air and creating the hockey equivalence of a "jump ball" for possession in the neutral zone.  If the Penguins win said battle, the trap is broken and an odd-man break is likely because of the inevitable bunching that would result from such a high & slow Murphy Dump.

Tonight will answer a lot of questions about both the Penguins and their coaching philosophies, and whether the Pens win or lose, the Stanley Cup will be in Nashville as either the Penguins or Predators will have an opportunity to claim the prize.

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