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Grove’s Notes: Pens Hot Shooting, Rookies Paving Way for Playoff Success



Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins 2016
Sidney Crosby with the Stanley Cup by Joey Gannon | CC BY-SA 2.0

As the Penguins prepare for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final tonight in Nashville, a couple of numbers caught my eye. . .

Much has been made this post-season of the Penguins’ lack of puck possession, especially given how big a role that played in their 2016 Stanley Cup run. But they’re two wins shy of successfully defending that title, in part, because they’ve been considerably more efficient at converting what chances they do get into goals.

The Penguins enter Game 3 ranked 13th among the 16 playoff teams in average shots per game (29.2) but have scored an average of 3.19 goals per game, best in the playoffs. Pittsburgh’s team shooting percentage is 10.85, which stands considerably ahead of‘s 2017 playoff average of 8.24. It’s also much better than the Penguins conversion rate last spring (8.72) and better than their 2016-17 regular-season average of 10.13.

The last Pittsburgh playoff team to have a better shooting percentage was the 2012 team that was eliminated by Philadelphia in six games in the first round (14.36). That shooting percentage, by the way, is the best in team playoff history – not that it got them anywhere that spring.

Among recent Stanley Cup champions, the only team that can best the current Pittsburgh mark was the 2010 Blackhawks, who converted 11.14 percent of their shots in winning their first Cup since 1961.

Some of the notable Penguins whose playoff shooting percentage this spring has surpassed their regular season numbers are Jake Guentzel (19.8 regular season to 28.6 playoffs), Bryan Rust (13.6-16.2), Justin Schultz (7.8-15.0), Scott Wilson (6.3-13.0), Patric Hornqvist (9.4-12.1), Phil Kessel (10.0-11.7), Chris Kunitz (6.7-8.3) and Carl Hagelin (4.7-6.7) – who may be drawing back into the lineup tonight.

And if you wondering where that healthy shooting percentage of Guentzel’s ranks in Penguins’ single-season playoff history, it’s nowhere near the top – tied for 15th, to be exact. Among players scoring at least two playoff goals, Gary Roberts (2007), Jordan Staal (2012) and Ross Lonsberry (1980) all converted 50.0 percent of their shots, while Jan Hrdina (2000) checked in at 44.4 percent and Bob Leiter (1972) at 42.9 percent.

Speaking of Guentzel and Wilson, they have given the Penguins a combined 25 points through 21 games in these playoffs, second-most in team history by rookies in one playoff year. During the 1989 playoffs, Pittsburgh got 28 points from rookies Kevin Stevens (10), Zarley Zalapski (9) and John Cullen (9). Last season, rookies Conor Sheary (10), Bryan Rust (9) and Tom Kuhnhackl (5) combined for 24 points in 24 games.

Of course, when judging the impact of rookies on this playoff run, you can’t forget a guy who’s not going to put up any points – goaltender Matt Murray.

The current offensive output of Pittsburgh’s rookies stacks up very well when compared to that of Stanley Cup champions since 1980 – a group the Penguins are hoping to join again. Only four champs got bigger contributions from rookies: