Despite Injuries, Penguins Numbers Paint Optimistic Picture
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Penguins Analysis

Despite Injuries, Penguins Numbers Paint Optimistic Picture

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Pittsburgh Penguins Brandon Tanev

It’s generally a pointless task to ask NHL players about NHL advanced statistics. They don’t know. Don’t care. A Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman once retorted to a question about advanced stats with a smirk, a small snort, and summarily rejected their inclusion in the analysis of his game.

But advanced statistics have their own story to tell. Sometimes the story is of trends not seen, and sometimes the story advanced statistics tell is right there to see, like the bright red nose on a clown.

“We look at a number of different statistics. The shot clock is one of them, but there are a number of different statistics that together tell the clearest story of how the game was played,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said on Saturday.

He answered a question about the Penguins recent high volume of shots, but the additional statistics the Penguins use or feed the players, are scoring chances. You’ll occasionally hear Sullivan reference chances as being even or having an advantage in his postgame remarks.

“The shot clock is in an indication of where the game is played. So, if teams are racking up a lot of shots, usually it’s a result of them controlling territory,” Sullivan said.

As the Penguins defender who first snorted replied, “a guy can shoot from the redline, right?”

The Penguins deeper stats this season tell a very different story than they’ve told in the past couple of seasons. In fact, the statistics are beginning to mirror the second half of the 2015-16 season when the Penguins charged through the NHL like Sherman to the sea. If the other team aren’t getting shots or scoring chances, it is much tougher for the other team to win.

And the Penguins are dominating those important stats, despite a roster depleted by injuries.

Pittsburgh Penguins Advanced Stats

We’ll start with the gateway drug in the stats world: Corsi. Which is the total of shots and shot attempts for and against. If a team is shooting and attempting shots, it at least means they have the puck and are within 50 feet of the goal. The statistic loses relevance beyond that.

In raw numbers, the Pittsburgh Penguins are ninth in the league with 815 shots and shot attempts. They’re seventh in the league in Corsi against, as they’ve allowed only 704 shots and shot attempts against them. That differential puts them second in the league, behind only Carolina, with a 53.51% rating.

RedBeard's Pittsburgh

To go deeper into the Penguins stats, scoring chances are heavily tilted towards the Penguins, too. However, the lesser talented roster and their lack of ability to get better chances begin to show up in this statistic.

The Penguins are 11th overall with 365 scoring chances in their first 17 games. Fortunately for Sullivan and crew, they’ve allowed only 317 chances. Their scoring chance ratio is fourth-best in the league, 53.52%.

We won’t burden you with the Penguins scoring chance shooting percentage, which is seventh-best, or their scoring chance save percentage, which is fifth-best.

One area in which the Penguins excel and the reason they are above water this season are high-danger scoring chances. Simply think back to Penguins goals this season. How many have been scored within feet of the net? Most of them. The Penguins like snipers able to snap a wrister past the goalie, and they’ve put markers on the scoreboard with hard work in the dirty areas, which in many ways is far more effective than relying on a player to beat a goalie with a clean shot.

The Penguins are fourth in the league with 160 high-danger chances but have allowed the sixth-fewest (122). Their ratio is the best in the NHL.

If the Penguins high-danger shooting percentage were a little better, they would be dominating opponents but they are ninth in that category.

So, the Penguins are getting more shots, more scoring chances, more high danger scoring chances than their opponents. And, they’re one of the best at limiting scoring chances and high-danger attempts, so the game is hardly fire wagon hockey.

If the Penguins ever get a healthy roster, perhaps you’ll forgive them for breaking script and playing loose for a week or two. They have played just two periods all season with a full complement of NHL players.

Some have noted the Penguins record is only 10-6-1, but given their patchwork lineup, they are still on pace for a 100-point season. That’s pretty good, eh?

And just in case you’re wondering if it can continue, the PDO stat is last. PDO is a statistic which attempts to measure luck. It’s like the mythical NFL quarterback rating, or calculating the speed of Santa’s sleigh. But in full disclosure, the Penguins PDO is nearly even, 1.01, which means the good luck and bad luck have thus far balanced out.

At least on the score sheet. In real life, bad luck has only gotten worse. Tuesday night, we will begin to find out what the Pittsburgh Penguins are like without Sidney Crosby, who may or may not be out long term. At least to this point, the Penguins have played the right way, limited chances and converted a goodly number of theirs.

Oh, by the way, Jack Johnson is a positive Corsi (52%) this season and the Penguins have a 59% goals-for ratio when he’s on the ice.

*All stats courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com. 

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Dean

    November 12, 2019 at 11:35 am

    Dan,

    JJ is playing better. The big question is what changed.

    Your excellent article provided the answer (agree with the comparison to 2015-2016) and then you ruin it by drawing the wrong conclusion about JJ.

    JJ’s stats are better because of the type of players he is getting to play with.

    The past 2 years, the pens had gotten slow while the rest of the league was playing faster. Last year we had 3-4 players that were playing fast and were relentless on the puck. This year we have 8-10 players playing that way.

    However, the real question is has JJ improved? Watching him skate, reminds me of watching Mattaa the last couple of years. He labors when he skates. He is not smooth or fast. His lack of speed is highlighted because at times he gets out of position and then has a hard time getting back into position. Both Marino’s and Riikola’s speed give them an extra step or 2 to have time to get to the puck with less pressure and then their good puck moving skills helps them to clear the zone. If you watch both of them, they use their speed to cheat JJ’s way to help him when he does get out of position. It is their play that helps JJ not to get stuck in our zone. So, what has changed? It is his partner’s speed and skills.

    The real question to me is, if JJ was a little more disciplined with his positioning, can he become more of an asset to the younger player? I actually think so.

    The other question we all should be asking is what would a pair of Riikola/Marino play like? Two players with speed and good puck moving skills playing together on the third pair.

    We may not see that this year. But hopefully next.

    By the way, listened to your podcast. I wouldn’t dismiss Haden Fluery so quickly. Especially at a cheap price.

    • Dan Kingerski

      November 12, 2019 at 1:44 pm

      If you think the story is about JJ, I think you’re projecting a bit too much. There was only one line at the end that Jack Johnson also has good analytics.

  2. Dean

    November 12, 2019 at 2:15 pm

    LOL

    I follow you enough to know that you don’t miss the opportunity to beat your JJ drum. One statement, as part of the conclusion, with a lot of underlying meaning made a good article (as noted) about JJ.

  3. Edgar

    November 12, 2019 at 3:00 pm

    Since we’re discussing advanced stats, I have one (well actually many), but one major beef. I hate the way HDC are calculated and I think they can be done in a much more efficient and effective manor. For example, you get “a point” if you intercept a pass in the neutral zone. If you then skate in and take a shot from a mid danger area, within 4 seconds of that interception, with an unscreened goalie watching you and making an easy save, you have just accrued a HDC. Actually, if you intercept a pass and take the same shot on a “rush”, again, you have just generated an HDSC, regardless of where the shot was taken from. As long as to was anywhere in the offensive zone. I can actually go on.
    I also think it’s time to take into account defensive positioning. Not giving an offensive player time to do what they want with the puck is an incredibly huge factor in scoring goals. But, it is yet to be taken into consideration at all. That needs to change. And pronto! Just a few thoughts.

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