Will it ever end?

Apologies for the protracted absence. It was neither intended nor desired, and the proximity of my return to Frank's departure is nothing but coincidental.

The Penguins are mired in a six-game losing streak. We all know this, and as we've seen in the comments here, Elmo hasn't taken the news well. Not to be all emo, but how much longer must we endure this?

/dyes hair black, puts on eyeliner

One of the most reliable methods to tell how well a team is playing is their possession numbers. Since we still don't have a hard and fast zone time statistic from the NHL, we're forced to use surrogates. I'm a fan of the Fenwick number. Applied to a team, it equals the number of shots on goal plus the number of missed shots, minus the same numbers of the opposing team. Positive numbers indicate that a team has possessed the puck more than their opponents, because a team obviously must possess the puck in order to shoot it.

Normally this number is considered to be relevant only for 5v5 play, but I'm going to include all strengths in this post. Let's take a look at what the Penguins have been doing in this losing streak.

Fenwick (Total)
DATE   PIT   OPP   PCT   TEAM
12/29   37    34   .521  PHI
12/31   42    30   .583  NJD
1/6     52    28   .650  NYR
1/7     55    38   .591  NJD
1/10    44    28   .611  OTT
1/11    39    31   .557  WSH

The Penguins outpossessed the opponent in all of the games in the current slump. This doesn't indicate poor play, and teams that do this tend to win more games than teams that don't, especially when they crack 60% more than once. So what gives?

Let's look at straight-up shots on goal instead.

Shots on goal (total)
DATE   PIT   OPP   PCT   TEAM
12/29   26    23   .531  PHI
12/31   30    21   .588  NJD
1/6     38    21   .644  NYR
1/7     42    27   .609  NJD
1/10    30    23   .566  OTT
1/11    30    21   .588  WSH

With the exception of the Ottawa game where Pittsburgh missed on 14 of their 44 non-blocked shot attempts, the shots on goal were either even more in Pittsburgh's favor or basically the same. So...we still haven't accomplished anything here. What gives? I think it's a combination of obvious factors.

First, the team's shooting percentage has fallen off a cliff.

In the last six games, the team has scored six goals. Six goals on 196 shots. That's a 3.1% shooting percentage. For an example, if we compared that to a single player and stretched it over a whole season, we're talking about something similar to Valeri Bure's awful 2002-2003 campaign. Over a career, it looks like Rod Pelley. Or Craig Ferguson (but not that Craig Ferguson). Prior to the six-game skid, the team had scored 115 goals on 1196 shots, which comes out to a 9.6% shooting percentage, which is actually a bit higher than is typical. Call it a market correction. I expect this to level off relatively soon.

That's only one side of the coin, though. What's going on with the defense? Clearly, shot totals are not a problem. No team has cracked 30 shots against the Penguins during this stretch. Save percentage, though, has been...interesting.

Penguin opponents have scored 19 goals on 136 shots in this period. Just glancing at that might tell you all you need to know, but if you must have the number, if we take away the two empty net goals, that equals an .873 SV%. Over a whole season, that sort of performance would likely get a goalie banished to the Italian league. Since the league average shooting percentage fell below 10% in 1996-1997, only four goalies have put in a season of .871 or worse and played 20 games. Two, as you can see, were aging legends, one was a laughingstock who'd been run out of town on a rail at his last job, and the other only played 71 games in the NHL. (Let's not mention that Brent Johnson is sitting at .876 with 9 games played. He's in real danger of becoming #5 here.)

At any rate, prior to that stretch, the Penguins had a .909 SV%, which is right around league average, no thanks at all to BJ1. I see no reason to think that this won't also level off soon.

How much of this is related to injury? Well, maybe a little, maybe a lot, but I don't see that it matters. We all know that the team will get better once injured players come back. I'm looking for reasons to be hopeful here, and it does certainly appear that this is not blind faith. This team is not this bad. No team is this bad.

What can I say? It gets better.

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