The Penguins have a 5-on-5 problem.
The back-to-back Stanley Cup champions currently sit dead last in the NHL with a 5-on-5 shooting percentage of 5.33% and a save percentage of .903%. Their combined SPSv% (shooting percentage plus save percentage–also known as PDO) of 957 is a full 19 points lower than the 30th place team, the Arizona Coyotes, and 73 points lower than the top-ranked team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, at 1030 (9.43%, .935%).
And it gets worse.
Since the NHL started tracking the stat in 2009-10, no team has ever finished a season with a lower combined number.
Yes, the Penguins, who are currently leading the league in shots generated per game, are looking at all-time levels of futility when it comes to 5-on-5 play.
Pittsburgh’s 5.33% 5-on-5 shooting percentage is .38% lower than the second-worst team, the 2014-15 Arizona Coyotes (5.71%), a group that finished the season with only 170 goals and a 24-50-8 record.
One answer is the Penguins have to get more rebounds and second-chance opportunities, like Patric Hornqvist. (Read Dan Kingerski’s Monday column why Hornqvist is more valuable than ever)
The Penguins are averaging 1.4 5-on-5 goals per game. That they are 17-14-3 is a minor miracle when all is considered. The Penguins lead the league in 5-on-3 goals (5) are tied in 3-on-3 goals (5) and tied for the lead in 6-on-5 goals (5). They are the only team in the league that has scored fewer 5-on-5 goals (48) than in all other situations combined (51).
As much trouble as the Penguins have scoring at 5-on-5, their goaltending and defense is just as suspect. So far, the Pens rank last in the NHL with an abysmal .903% save percentage, .036 lower than the #1 team, the Philadelphia Flyers. Taken in historical context (or at least since the NHL started tracking the stat in 2009-2010) the 2017-18 Penguins rank 267th out of 271 total team seasons. The only teams with more futile goaltending were the 2012-13 Flames, 2009-2010 Senators, 2014-15 Oilers and 2012-13 Panthers. Not exactly a stout group.
What’s just as alarming is the drop off from the cup winning teams. In 2016-17 the Penguins finished the season with a 5-on-5 shooting percentage of 8.56%, and a save percentage of .926%, 5th best and 8th best in the league respectively. In 2015-16 the Penguins’ 7.59% 5-on-5 shooting percentage ranked near the middle of the pack–although that probably had more to do with the Penguins pre-Sullivan–and their save percentage was 5th in the league at .930%.
So what’s it all mean? Is it just bad luck? Are the back-to-back champions tired after playing 213 games in the past two season? Do the Penguins miss Cullen, Bonino, Kunitz, and Fleury that much? Is it because Sidney Crosby’s 5-on-5 shooting percentage of 3.66% is 459th in the NHL out of the 466 players with more than 25 games played? Should the Penguins go about their business knowing that a massive regression towards the mean is coming?
At this point, no one has definitive answers. Sullivan has tried juggling lines, and the Pens recently brought up Dominik Simon in an attempt to shake things up. So far, mixed results. PHN’s Dan Kingerski believes that a shakeup is necessary a la 91-92. John Steigerwald says to hold the line; it’s still too early to panic. But Rutherford is on the record as being impatient.
Odds that the Penguins decide a change is necessary? I’d say it’s a lot higher than 5.33%.