Analyzing The Pens Shot Differential

I’m kind of sick of the whole “The Pens won’t win because they give up too many shots” rhetoric.

Its true the Pittsburgh Penguins currently sit 27th in the league in the shots against category, giving up 32.7 shots per game on average. They’re also number one in shots for. They rank 16th in goals against per game, but again top the league in goals for per game. They hold 6th in the league in shooting percentage.

There’s certainly an argument to be made that a stellar offense is carrying the load for a garbage group of defencemen. But is the shots against category enough to push a panic button?

Obviously it’s not ideal to give up consistently high shots against totals. It’s also somewhat unhealthy to rely on getting higher than average shots for totals. But when you look at the top 10 teams in the league in shot differential some interesting things turn up.

There’s currently 10 teams I consider to be comfortably holding a playoff spot. To me that’s teams with 70 points or more on the year. Of those 10 teams, only 4 sit in the league top 10 in shot differential.  In fact, only 5 of them are in the top 15 for that category. That means half of the league’s top 10 winningest teams rank in the bottom 15 in shot differential.

Of the top 10 teams in shot differential only 7 of them are even in a playoff spot, and 2 of those are barely clinging to a Wild Card. Only 9 of the top 17 would make the post season if it began today.

Only 10 teams total have a shot differential of 1.0 or higher. 16 teams (more than half the league) have a negative shot differential.

To me, shot differential doesn’t tell me much.

What’s more telling to me is only 4 teams in the top 10 in shot differential are actually also in the top 10 in GOAL differential, which I wrote about earlier this year as being the obvious key to long term success. Remember I said only 4 teams in the shot differential top 10 are comfortably in the playoffs? Oddly enough, I’m talking about the same 4 teams (Washington, San Jose, Edmonton, and….Pittsburgh).

Focusing on those 4 teams, goal differential doesn’t even tell the complete story because Pittsburgh is the only one of them who has a better even strength goal differential than overall goal differential. This isn’t only because they score more than anyone else. They’re a respectable 12th in total even strength goals against, hardly cause for alarm.

Looking at the dismal Pittsburgh stat of 27th in shots against per game another way, consider that of the top 10 teams in shot differential, just 7 of them are also in the top 10 in shots against per game. Of those 7 teams, only THREE are in the top 10 in goals against per game. Less shots doesn’t automatically translate to fewer goals per game.

Our Penguins have easily the most dramatic statistical improvement from shots against per game (27th) to goals against per game (16th!). Compare that to the shots against top 10: LA (1st SA, 5th GA), Boston (2nd SA, 12th GA), San Jose (3rd SA, 3rd GA), St. Louis (4th SA, 23rd GA), Carolina (5th SA, 20th GA), Washington (6th SA, 1st GA) Calgary (7th SA, 20th GA), Philly (8th SA, 25th GA), Anaheim (9th SA, 6th GA), and NYR (10th SA, 10th GA). Only two of these teams show any improvement at all, and at least half give up an abysmal number of goals relative to shots.

So how does Pittsburgh somehow manage to give up close the league worst in shots but only concede the league average in goals against per game with a 12th place ranking in total goals against? No amount of goals for or offensive prowess can acount for those numbers. Let’s turn to our good friends, advanced statistics.

The Pens are 15th in league wide Corsi. Not bad, but not what you would think of as an indicator this team would be 1st overall in shots for and goals for per game. But again, they make a dramatic leap in Fenwick statistics, where they make a drastic jump to 4th. Fenwick and Corsi have only one difference: blocked shots. How can a team be 15th in overall shot attempts against including blocked shots, but improve to 4th in shots on goal and missed shots only??? Someone’s got to be putting themselves or their sticks in front of those pucks.

Shots against alone don’t tell the whole story. The Penguins play as a 5 man unit. That’s what I love about them. Forwards are expected to help out in the back end, and defencemen are encouraged to join the attack. While they may give up a lot of shots, most are off rushes. Many are from shooters who are hurried by team pressure. The puck gets to the net but the battles are won.

The club has only lost consecutive games 5 times (one 3 game losing streak, four 2 gamers).

Unless you can show me stats like time in the defensive zone, number of shots off rebounds, and number of shots per zone entry to back up the whole being defensively dominated charade, don’t tell me the Pens can’t win with the defense they have. 

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