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PHN Blog: Beyond the Attitude, Penguins Have One Major Need

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PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 17: Pittsburgh Penguins Right Wing Bryan Rust (17) celebrates his goal with Pittsburgh Penguins Right Wing Jake Guentzel (59) during the first period in the NHL game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Anaheim Ducks on December 17, 2018, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)

The need for an attitude adjustment is a given. The culture of me seeped into the Pittsburgh Penguins locker room and as a result, their golf game hasn’t received this much attention since 2006. Beyond the ‘tude, the Penguins have one major area which needs to improve and as improbable as it may be, the traditionally offensive Penguins need to score more goals.

Believe it or not.

A team which scored 274 goals and signs paychecks for multiple Art Ross trophy winners and one of the most prolific goal scorers of this generation should not struggle to score goals. Yet, that worry about finishing which many had in March turned out to be true. The Penguins bombarded opposing goaltenders with scoring chances, but either had the worst six week run of hot goaltenders or lacked finish.

Beginning with the Stadium Series game on February 23 when the Penguins began to play good hockey (finally), their team identity was on display. After 10, maybe 15 games, it is a trend and not an aberration; the Penguins couldn’t score.

And no, the Penguins biggest problem wasn’t their defensemen. Blunt truth–and this is a blog style today–that is the most ideological yet blindly thrust opinion I’ve seen in years. Reflexively, without hesitation and relentlessly, too many Penguins fans have returned to the dogmatic brutalization of the Penguins defense.

Jim Rutherford was right to get testy in April when he was challenged on the subject. He undoubtedly heard the tidal wave of blame Jack Johnson received and the ignorant dismissals of  Erik Gudbranson.

“Have you been to the games,” Rutherford shot back when a reporter asked about the speed of the defense. But I’m blue in the face explaining, describing, diagramming, showing, and otherwise chuckling at the powerful social media contingent which formed based on the shared perceptions and bias confirmation.

Nope, the Penguins lacked offense. Not defense. Have a look.

Beyond the Penguins Stats 5v5

In the six week period from the Stadium Series game to the end of the season, the Penguins finally had all pieces in-house. At even strength, they scored 60% of the goals. That’s remarkable but not the full story.

At 5v5, the Penguins ranked sixth in expected goals for, and fifth in expected goals against, according to Natural Stat Trick. Further, the Penguins ranked first in scoring chance goal differential, first in save percentage on scoring chances, first in high danger scoring chances and they allowed the fewest high danger chances (see, not the defense). Those rankings should have made them elite.

In raw data, the Penguins also ranked ninth in total scoring chances. So far, so good.

But expected goals and real goals, scoring chances and “should be” are different than reality.

Here is where the Penguins shortcoming is brightly-colored obvious. Despite being ninth in cumulative scoring chances, the Penguins were 21st in scoring chance goals. That’s not too terrible until the raw data is ripped apart.

The Penguins needed 485 scoring chances to score just 37 goals. That’s bad. They ranked 26th with a 10% shooting percentage on scoring chances. Most players are about 10% overall; good shots and bad shots. The Penguins converted just 10% of the good shots.

The sub-zero temperatures of both Patric Hornqvist’s stick and Phil Kessel’s contributed mightily. Dominik Simon’s lack of finish didn’t help matters nor did Bryan Rust’s offensive game.

So, when the Penguins buckled in, they produced elite level scoring chance differentials, volume, and high danger chances. They just didn’t actually put the puck in the net. And as all eyes turn towards changes this summer and the potential roster next season, the space for improvement has neon flashing lights pointing the way.

It’s not the defense. It’s not coaching. Or any other popular point of angst. The Penguins simply need to put the puck in the net when they get the chance. Though the adjustment in the team game certainly isn’t going to hurt, either.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Dean
Dean
2 years ago

Dan you are amazing!!! You look at “just” 1 small piece of the analytics needed to identify the “problems” the pens had last year and determine that we had no problems on defense or with coaching. Give up the ghost on JJ. The fact is it would not take much to make a dramatic improvement by replacing him. Why did the coaching staff exasperate the problems on D by playing guys like JJ in the wrong position? Bad performance is a cancer for the player and the team. If Sullivan would not have won the 2 cups in the past… Read more »

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
2 years ago
Reply to  Dean

You call Dan out for using a bunch of statistical data that shows the team was actually playing at a very elite level at both ends, accuse him of cherry picking stats, then disagree with him using zero evidence at all aside from your opinion, and only empty rhetoric. All while he’s pointing out how silly the empty rhetoric of the internet can be. You win ironic post of the day.

I come here for actual analysis and thoughtful articles based on evidence and insight. That’s what Dan does. The groupthink on the pens D is laughable.

Edgar
Edgar (@edgar)
2 years ago

Didn’t the team give up 3 to 4 goals in every game in the playoffs? Didn’t Eberle have a goal in each game? Weren’t those chances mostly wide open looks, or time in front?
Our defense doesn’t close well, nor defend the front of the net well. 2 killers. Eberle was completely shut down by the Canes, as was the entire NY offense.
Stats are great. Evidence is great. I mean that seriously. But sometimes- most of the times- results matter.

Dean
Dean
2 years ago

Hatrick you may want to stop trying to kiss up to Dan and read what I wrote. My response was to Dan’s conclusion – “It’s not the defense. It’s not coaching.” It was not to the data he provided on the O. if his conclusion was that the Pens have an Offense issue too, that would be great. But no he says look here is some data that shows Pens has an O issue so that means we don’t have a Defense or Coaching issue. That is just a ridiculous conclusion and anyone with a brain should call him out… Read more »

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
2 years ago
Reply to  Dean

I read what you wrote. You gave nothing but empty opinions with nothing backing them up. Just cause I agree with him and not you means I’m kissing his ass? Lol, ok. I think he’s a rare voice of reason out there in an Internet full of hyperbolic hot takes that usually miss the point. I commend his breakdowns of the play, they’re excellent. And the back breaking goals in the series were often results of Letang’s poorly timed pinches that went against the constant preaching of his coach to keep it simple and take what’s there. Don’t get me… Read more »

Dean
Dean
2 years ago

Hatrick, Now I am not sure if you can’t read or can’t comprehend what you do read. Let me try to use smaller words. I am saying that there are facts and stats that point that the Pens have problems with the forwards, defense, and coaching. However I do not need any stats to make my point that what Dan wrote is just plain illogical. You were supporting Dan who gave a stat that showed that the offense had some issues and concluded not that the offense had some issues to address (which I agree with) but that the defense… Read more »

Brian
Brian (@nuseusmc)
2 years ago

Everyone wants to blame everything and every player regardless of facts. This column will go over about as well as a fart in the wind to those people. Much like a jack Johnson column

Matt Luda
Matt Luda
2 years ago

You have to shoot da puck to score the goal. That’s not the Pens way. It starts with the captain, who last season would have scored 47 (not 35) goals with only one more SOG per game. Yuge difference. Until that mindset changes, expect more of the same.

Voice of Reason
Voice of Reason
2 years ago

a big part of the reason that the Penguins weren’t scoring goals is that their defense was completely inept (outside of Letang/Dumo) at getting the puck out of their own zone. It’s tough to score goals when you’re hemmed into your own end more often than not.

Joseph Berardo
Joseph Berardo
2 years ago

Again , I disagree. The Pens were 5th in goals, that being said the main problem with the Pens was defense. Matt Murray was left exposed in too many games at the beginning of the year and the slow play of our defense led to far more shorthanded goals than I ever seen from this Sid’s team. Maatta and Johnson were terrible the first half of the season and the injury to Shulz amplified it. Kessel and Malkin were also liabilities getting back to help on defense. I will agree that in the playoffs game against the Islanders we had… Read more »

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
2 years ago

Dean, You sound exactly like Hooks Orpik. Snotty and rude, condescending, and having to insult the intelligence of people who disagree with you, thinking it makes you sound smart. Congrats, you’re Twitter. You use the same tone and sentence structure as Hooks and you come here to tell Dan off, and promote pensburgh? You’re probably the same guy who pays money to do this same crap at The Athletic and gets told how terrible Pensburgh is there too. And my reference to Letang needs you to infer something that should be easy. When people complain about our D, they are… Read more »

Dean
Dean
2 years ago

Hatrick, Look in the mirror, because you are the one you are talking about. All you have to do is read the string of your first responses. My original comment “Dan, you look at “just” 1 small piece of the analytics needed to identify the “problems” the pens had last year and determine that we had no problems on defense or with coaching.” Your response to my post – totally off point “You call Dan out for using a bunch of statistical data that shows the team was actually playing at a very elite level at both ends, accuse him… Read more »

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
2 years ago
Reply to  Dean

Sorry Hooks.

Dean
Dean
2 years ago

Just another rude statement.

My real name is Dean as I use in my post.

I do not need to use a fake one, especially a low-class one that implies that you are either obsessed with porn or have no concept of the damage the porn industry does to other.

You just keep making my point.

People like you give Pittsburgh a bad name.

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
2 years ago
Reply to  Dean

Lol,
Now I’m obsessed with porn and helping damage people. Ok. Have a good one Hooks…errr…Deano!

Dean
Dean
2 years ago

All I can say is, no matter how cleaver you thought the name choice was, it is saying something that maybe you really didn’t want it to say about you.

That is sincere by the way.

Also, this may surprise you, the reason I “call out” Dan is I want him to succeed. I love the Pens and I appreciate all the groups that write about them. Not just the ones I agree with.

When he writes a good article like this one and ends it with such an illogical conclusion, it actually hurts his readership.

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
2 years ago
Reply to  Dean

Haha, ok bud. You want Dan to succeed so you come to his site and tell people they should read Pensburgh for some true understanding. It’s very see through and your explanation as to why is s brutally sad attempt. You’re not fooling anyone with the “I want what’s best for Dan BS”. Just…wow. Go ahead and insiniuate whatever you want about me from my handle too. It says something about you, not me. It’s just a silly reversal of letters that makes it sound funny. Hatrick being a hockey term and Pornqvist being just funny. Nobody is buying your… Read more »

Edgar
Edgar (@edgar)
2 years ago

I’ve been at both places and enjoy this one much more. But the personal insults make me feel like I’m back there with the children. Disagreement is perfectly fine. I don’t think any of us would agree with anyone 100% of the time. Even Scotty Bowman. It’s all good. That being said, it’s very, very hard to use much current statistical analysis to really know what’s going on. For example, the definition of a “rebound chance”. According to War On Ice a rebound is any shot that follows a missed, blocked, or saved shot within 3 seconds. I don’t know… Read more »

Doug
Doug
2 years ago

The Pens’ problems were many and were a team effort. The defense would have been better had the forwards been more than occasionally interested in backchecking. More goals would have been scored had Sid and Geno not passed up innumerable opportunities with inexplicable passes. Murray would have been better had the team actually been playing as a team in front of him. I wasn’t there but it doesn’t take a genius to see the locker room attitude sucked last season. And I don’t blame Sullivan for that; the main issue was prima donna-ism by the superstars and what can a… Read more »

Cal
Cal
2 years ago

Hey dan, whats your thoughts on the chance Pens can get Virtanen out of Vancouver? Good fit?

John
John
2 years ago

I’m still trying to figure out who on the Penguins is “one of the most prolific goal scorers of this generation.”

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