Are The Penguins Back?

Since the calendar turned to 2018, the Penguins have started to come back to life.  They have posted an 8-3 record in their 11 contests, which leaves them tied for 2nd in the division going into the all-star break.  Despite the recent run which includes the resurgence of star players such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, are the Penguins really back?

We know what this team can do when it is clicking.  We have witnessed it the past 2 seasons.  And it is finally starting to happen again.

Or is it?

After the Penguins most recent 6-3 win against the Minnesota Wild, I couldn’t help but notice a tweet from Matt Gajtka formerly of DKPittsburghSports.com:

gajtka

This is a stat that very much troubled me.  Although the Penguins are winning games, I do not find it at all possible for them to continue to win games consistently as well as multiple playoff series with such a poor 5 on 5 save percentage.

With a 5 on 5 save percentage that low, I figured that the only way a team goes 8-3 is if everything else is clicking on all cylinders.  Upon further investigation, I was absolutely correct.  Since the turn of the calendar to 2018 (during the Penguins 8-3 run)…

  • The powerplay has been clicking at an absolutely ridiculous 36.4%, ranking 1st in the NHL during that stretch.
  • The penalty kill is not far behind, successfully killing 90.9% of penalties, which ranks 3rd in the NHL during that span.
  • The Penguins shooting percentage has been much better, right around 10.8%, compared to the 7.9% from the beginning of the season through December 31st.
  • The Penguins overall save percentage has actually been stellar at a .925 despite 5 on 5 save percentage being down.  Impressively, Matt Murray started only 1 of the Penguins last 11 games, so that save percentage is mainly a combination of Tristan Jarry‘s and Casey DeSmith‘s work.

Although this run has been great, are any of these statistics at all sustainable?  I would argue not so much.  Over the last 10 seasons (as well as this one…)

  • The Penguins average a shooting percentage of around 9%.  Although we all knew that 7.9% from the first part of the season would eventually rise closer to the norm, 10.8% is relatively high, and that will likely fall back to around 9% sooner or later.
  • The powerplay is not going to keep scoring at a 36.4% clip.  That is absolutely absurd.  It is so much fun to watch, but that just will not happen.  To put things in perspective, the best PP% the Penguins have put up in the past 10 seasons was 24.1% in 2012-2013.  They currently sit at 27.1% on the season.  Odds are the powerplay will get in a funk sooner or later, and if/when it does, the Penguins are in trouble.
  • Although the PK has been much better of late, they were only killing about 80% of penalties during the first part of the season, which ranked them only 18th in the NHL.  Although I would not expect the PK to drop quite that dramatically, to expect them to continue to kill off penalties at a 90.9% clip is also just unreasonable.  That will drop.

If and when all of these stats the Penguins have been putting up during the last 11 games deviate closer to the norm, the Pens will find themselves in another “win then lose then win then lose…” scenario.  Why, you ask?

Going back to Gajtka’s tweet, I decided to look more into 5 on 5 numbers, especially with the Penguins powerplay being extremely effective and exceeding expectations.

  • Throughout the entire season, the Penguins have posted a .906 save percentage 5 on 5, which is worst in the NHL.  In the past 10 seasons, it would be the Penguins worst mark in that category.  They have twice posted a .909 save percentage 5 on 5, and the next worst jumps all the way up to a .918.  Summary: a .906 save percentage 5 on 5 is bad.  Really bad.  Ask Braden Holtby and Sergei Bobrovsky what a .906 save percentage gets you in the playoffs…
  • What might be even more troubling is, despite the Penguins recent stretch, their 5 on 5 shooting percentage is also the worst in the NHL at 5.8%.  What is even more troubling is that, over the last 10 Penguin seasons, this would be their worst 5 on 5 shooting percentage by a long shot.  The 2nd worst they finished with in a full season is 7.5% in the last 10 years.  Conclusion: a 5 on 5 shooting percentage of 5.8% is bad. Really bad.

Will these numbers regress to the norm as well?  Maybe they do, maybe they don’t.  But until the Penguins prove that they can score in all situations and be a much better team 5 on 5, I can’t be sold despite a nice 8-3 run in their last 11.

So, are the Penguins back?

Not quite yet…but there’s plenty of hockey left to play.

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