The Pittsburgh Penguins Round One series with the New York Islanders will be a study in contrasts. They talented Penguins with highly paid, well-known talent spread over three lines against New York which is most known for the talented player who left. The New York Islanders showed heart, grit, and determination to consistently overachieve for 82 games and the Penguins showed they have what they needed when it mattered.
The Islanders will push the Penguins and force the Penguins to adhere to the structured, honest game they’ve played since the Stadium Series game on Feb. 23, which was the turning point of their season. If the Penguins get loose as they did in Round One last season against Philadelphia, they will not win. However, the 2017-18 Penguins never found a taste for honest, tough hockey and were ripe for the picking.
The current Penguins could not be more different in style, temperament or ambition.
It will be a competitive, tight series but the numbers also point to a quick series.
The Stats: Goals, Scoring Chances, and the Difference
The Penguins full season stats are not useful in most discussions. The team has undergone significant slumps, struggles, and roster turnover. What was true on Nov. 1 was different than the truth on Jan. 1 and much different than what is true on April 10.
The Islanders have been stable this season, so we’ll balance the full season stats with those since the Penguins turning point on Feb. 23 in the Stadium Series game.
Full Season (5v5):
For the Corsi crowd, the Islanders are not a Corsi team. They trend well below water like most Barry Trotz coached teams and easily have the worst Corsi rating among playoff teams. They gathered only 47.85 percent of shots and shot attempts, which means they play the game without the puck and usually not in the offensive zone.
Goals are far more critical than Corsi. Unfortunately, the Islanders don’t have a lot of those either. New York scored only 228 goals this season, which placed them well below the rest of the Eastern Conference playoff teams; ranked in a pack of non-playoff teams including Buffalo, Detroit and New Jersey.
On the flip side, the Islanders also allowed the fewest goals in the NHL (196).
Scoring chances are the stats which teams and players use to gauge their effectiveness. Scoring chances also predict bad news for the Islanders, which had only 48.5% of the chances. The Penguins had a small majority at 50.1.
Even worse news for the Islanders: According to NaturalStatTrick.com, they ranked 23rd in scoring chances allowed and 18th in high danger scoring chances.
For comparison, the Penguins ranked 16th and 17th in scoring chances and high danger scoring chances.
Since Feb. 23 (5v5):
For those who point to the Islanders goal suppression as the great equalizer, think again. Guess which team allowed the fewest goals in the NHL over the 21 games since Feb. 23? The Pittsburgh Penguins, by a wide margin. At 5v5, the Penguins allowed only 24 goals and posted a 60% goals-for ratio (37 goals for, 24 goals against).
In the same time frame, the Islanders were in the middle of the pack with a 52.5% ratio (43 goals for, 38 goals against).
The Penguins rank fifth (54%) in scoring chance ratio since Feb. 23 and the Islanders (50%) are 13th.
In raw data, the Penguins difference with the Islanders is more pronounced. The Penguins allowed the third fewest scoring chances despite a depleted blue line. The Penguins played long stretches without Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin or Olli Maatta. And they played without Evgeni Malkin, too.
While the Penguins allowed the third fewest chances, the Islanders allowed the fourth most.
Cue the ominous organ music.
The Penguins also led the league in high danger scoring chance ratio (59%) and high danger goals for (64%) but in an interesting twist, the Islanders had significantly MORE high danger conversions (29) than the Penguins (18).
In layman’s terms, the Penguins squeezed the game without Malkin and Letang and were successful while the Islanders yielded shots, scoring chances and puck possession, they got the better Grade A chances over the final six weeks of the season.
The game isn’t played on a spreadsheet. The games will be close, but if the Islanders yield scoring chances and zone time to the Penguins, we’re in for another Penguins vs. Capitals Round Two.
It’s been a Cinderella story for the Islanders, but the numbers say it’s midnight.