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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.

RedBeard's Pittsburgh

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

26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. Dean

    June 4, 2019 at 9:05 am

    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 4 years, he would be on the block too. Sullivan lost control of the locker room and the team. He was given a group of players that he did not have the ability to coach. Wonder where we would be if Tocchet was still here getting the best out of Kessel.

    The bottom line is we have problems with the D, O, and coaching.

    Fixing 1 of the 3 will just land us here next year or mid season.

    • Hatrick Pornqvist

      June 4, 2019 at 11:39 am

      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

        June 4, 2019 at 12:59 pm

        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

        June 4, 2019 at 1:12 pm

        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 on it.

        Plus, Dan has quadrupled down on JJ about 1000 times as he does once again in this article. (Just ask yourself a simple question if we got rid of JJ and replaced him with another Pettersson would the D be better? – If you can’t answer that yes then you have another problem. So here is a conclusion for you if I replace JJ with somewhat just like Pettersson are defense would be considerably better.)

        By the way, if you want some stats that are out there on the D, look at today’s article from PensBurgh (including stats) on the impact that Pettersson had on everyone that he played with including JJ.

        There is a word that rhymes with your ironic comment to me that describes your response.

        • Hatrick Pornqvist

          June 4, 2019 at 3:03 pm

          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 wrong, I like Letang. But forwards not helping out, lazy coverages that left us exposed in front of our net (by the man picking up the trailer), guys like Kessel refusing to go into a corner for a puck, and badly timed pinches led to our demise. Not to mention our star forwards COULDNT SCORE, nor did we stick to the system that was working. Where did I hear somebody mention thise issues? But let’s blame Jack Johnson for everything. Laughable.

          Please don’t mention pensburgh if you want to be taken seriously, that is a garbage blog full of sheep who agree with anything the main writer says and has zero insight. A bunch of stats not interpreted at all just thrown out there. Articles recapping what actual journalists wrote and ripping them off constantly, until they disagree with them, then they’re hacks. Three second video clips of poor quality that ignore what happened on the ice that led to the actual events. The discussion there and the articles are painful to read. I stopped going there a couple years ago, you should too. It’s garbage takes and ripped off articles. Nothing more. If you’re entire take is that it’s jack johnson’s Fault, everyone else was great, Pensburgh is definitely for you.

          • Dean

            June 4, 2019 at 3:26 pm

            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 and the coaching has none. DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW ILLOGICAL THAT CONCLUSION IS?

            Then in your great wisdom you contradict Dan and his article with your Letang example. DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW ILLOGICAL THAT IS? If not let me spell it out for you. Letang is part of the D that Dan just said is not part of the problem.

            Dan and now you are so fixated on JJ that you can’t comprehend what is being said.

            If you are from Pittsburgh, you are giving us a bad name.

          • Dan Kingerski

            June 4, 2019 at 3:44 pm

            All right. I’ve read the arguments, and I can only conclude the part which explained the significance of the stats was ignored because it justly proved the Penguins achieved a high number of chances yet converted a very low percentage. If it were true the defense was at fault, the team would not have achieved those chances. Further, it’s important to note the very small number of chances the opposition received in that important time period when the Penguins roster was final. It’s always a difficult line for me personally as my years of hockey experience are discarded because the information provided doesn’t fit the popular belief. But I’ve learned to smile and write again tomorrow…

  2. Brian

    June 4, 2019 at 12:20 pm

    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

  3. Matt Luda

    June 4, 2019 at 12:50 pm

    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.

  4. Voice of Reason

    June 4, 2019 at 1:15 pm

    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.

    • Dan Kingerski

      June 4, 2019 at 3:49 pm

      Well, VOR, if that were true, the Penguins would not have led the league in high danger scoring chances (as referenced above) during that time period in which their roster was final. That’s an important point which cannot be discounted.

  5. Joseph Berardo

    June 4, 2019 at 3:15 pm

    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 no offense to speak of and I still think that was due to our defenceman lack of team speed in transition.

  6. Hatrick Pornqvist

    June 4, 2019 at 3:53 pm

    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 clearly not talking about Letang as being the issue. It’s all Jack Johnson hot takes. Non stop. You aren’t talking about Letang being traded to fix our D are you? Of course not. So when I say Letang played a big role in our loss I’m saying he was guilty of not doing the job he was asked to do. Like our forwards. Our D is fine. We scored six goals in the series loss to NYI. Six. In games 2, 3, and 4 we scored one goal. It’s because we got away from what was working in March beautifully. Attention to detail, and smart thoughtful hard working hockey. Back checking.

    I’m not even a Johnson supporter. I’d be happy to see him replaced and I think Petterssen should get a chance with Schultz. The third pairing of JJ and Gudbranson is a scary thought and I don’t like it, nor am I a big fan of Maatta. I hope we wheel and deal and add a slick skating LD and ship out Maatta and Johnson. I just don’t think the D is nearly the biggest issue. Maybe fourth or fifth. Attitude and effort are easily number one. Back checking forwards number two. Defensive system structure number three. Powerplay predictability fourth. Then maybe personnel and even then, I think our wings are a bigger issue than our D. Need some finishers (who back check) and go into corners.

    But please, tell me about how I don’t understand logic and insult my intelligence. Go to Pensburgh for that. Pensburgh is twitter with unlimited characters. (I mean that in every way possible). Go there and hate on Johnson, talk about your favourite movies, and post gifs of players with their shirts off. Coming here to insult the writer and talk down to people in the comments is gross. This site is light years ahead in its analysis and knowledge of the game.

  7. Dean

    June 4, 2019 at 4:27 pm

    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 of cherry picking stats, then disagree with him using zero evidence at all aside from your opinion, and only empty rhetoric.”

    This is just an ignorant statement. I never called Dan out on his stats. You told me I didn’t provide evidence, and what I said was empty rhetoric. I called him out on his conclusion, because his point that the O has issues does not support his illogical conclusion that there is no issue with the D and coaching.

    Your next comment in response

    “All while he’s pointing out how silly the empty rhetoric of the Internet can be. You win ironic post of the day.””

    Nice grown-up response

    Your last point of your response

    “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.”

    Implying that I don’t and any thought I might have on the D is part of groupthink and is laughable.

    Who is “Snotty and rude, condescending” – I could easily add a few other description of your response that wasn’t even close to being on point.

    Like I said, you give people from Pittsburgh a bad name.

    You can apologize any time!!

    • Hatrick Pornqvist

      June 4, 2019 at 4:30 pm

      Sorry Hooks.

  8. Dean

    June 4, 2019 at 4:38 pm

    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

      June 4, 2019 at 4:59 pm

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

  9. Dean

    June 4, 2019 at 5:15 pm

    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

      June 4, 2019 at 5:47 pm

      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 imaginary disgust when it comes to that either. It’s a hilariously see through attempt to make yourself look righteous while attempting to make me look bad. Nothing more. Keep it up though, for the good of all of us, because you care so much. It’s very “cleaver”.

      • Dan Kingerski

        June 4, 2019 at 5:49 pm

        Dean, Pornqvist–OK, guys. You can spend days doing this..OR…just let it go. The story stands on its own and I do appreciate all readers!

  10. Edgar

    June 4, 2019 at 6:23 pm

    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 anyone who would consider a shot off of a missed or blocked shot, “a rebound”. Also, count to three in your head. 1,000-1, 1,000-2, 1,000-3. That’s an eternity. Whoever decided that was a rebound has either never watched a game, or is coming up with terminology to fit some idea. It’s insane. Same goes for HDSC. They are not all from in close. Points are added for rebound shots. Yes, you get an extra point if you take a shot from anywhere in the offensive zone within 3 seconds of the previous chance. Does anyone really realize that? So, if you take shot from the point, it gets blocked, if you then shoot from a wing area within 3 seconds of that previously blocked shot, you have just generated an HDSC. Regardless of defensive positioning. Regardless of who’s shooting. Regardless if the goalie is square to you with no traffic. There are other issues as well, but these highlight the dangers of relying on them too much.
    These stats are a pretty good over view. And they are helpful. But, when we break them down in small samples, really anything smaller than an entire season, we really don’t get the full picture. We get a piece that can send us in the wrong direction very easily.

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  12. Doug

    June 5, 2019 at 11:02 am

    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 modern day coach do when that happens, even a hard-nosed coach like Sully? Not just Kessel but one or both of Letang and/or Malkin should go also. I don’t see any of them now becoming team-first players and all of them are aging. Get some young talent and reload around Sid and let the most successful head coach the team has ever had have the authority he needs to mold them into a team again.

  13. Cal

    June 5, 2019 at 6:22 pm

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

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  15. John

    June 6, 2019 at 9:36 am

    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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