FanPost

Pens in 7? Crazy? Not According to Mathematical Law.

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I can't be serious, right? Thinking that a team with the following track record through three games could win four straight:

  • A team that has given up as many shorthanded goals (3) as they've scored on the power play in those three games?
  • A team that has allowed the opponent to score on 5-out-of-9 power plays?
  • A team whose starting goaltender has a .798 sv% through the first three games?
  • A team whose 50-goal scorer hasn't hit the back of the net once?
  • A team that has blown early leads of 3-0, 2-0 and 1-0 consecutively?

Yes. I'm serious. And the reason is a mathematical law known as "regression to the mean."

It's because we're talking about the 2011-2012 Pittsburgh Penguins. None of the trends listed above match the record we've seen from this team over the course of an 82-game season.

In mathematics, the law of "regression to the mean" establishes that if a if an observed variable is extreme on its first measurement, it will tend to be closer to the average on a second measurement, and so on. When the sample size gets larger, the average of the observed measurements tend to roughly equate to the average exhibited over a larger period of time. It's this mathematical law that gives me hope for Game 4, and perhaps Games 5 through 7. We've seen some extreme measurements in favor of the Flyers through three games. If the stats begin to resemble the "mean," the Pens have a serious chance at taking the next four.

Special Teams

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No more of this, please, it's spreading herpes.

The Pens had the best special teams unit in the league, collectively, during the regular season. 5th power play unit in the league at 19.7%, and 3rd in the league killing penalties at 87.8%. While the man advantage has remained consistent at 25%, the 40.0%(!) penalty kill is a far cry from what we saw prior to April 11th. The Flyers were a solid 6-for-27 on the power play (22.2%) against the Pens in the regular season, but nothing like the 5-for-9 we've seen so far.

Better still, during the 6-game regular season series, the Pens scored the only two shorthanded goals between the two teams. Both the Pens and Flyers were near the worst in the league for SHG allowed during the regular season: the Pens conceded 11 to the Flyers' 10 (5th and 6th worst, respectively). But the Pens were third in the league scoring 11 SHG to the Flyers' six.

For the Flyers to have scored all three shorthanded goals within the first three games is a gigantic statistical outlier. And a good case can be made that Talbot's shorthanded goals - the first Flyers goal in their Game 2 and Game 3 comebacks - set the tone for both games.

Bylsma knows what has to happen: The Pens can't give up shorties, and they've got to either kill penalties better or stay out of the box. It's not a terribly difficult proposition.

Goaltending

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Good god, make it (a) stop.

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Just today, Ryan Lambert at Puck Daddy claimed:

this is a goaltender who's in so far over his head that the Roberto Luongo who faced the Blackhawks those few times looks as mentally secure as Fort Knox by comparison.

Okay, Ryan. We get it: Fleury looks rattled. But Bryzgalov hasn't been stellar either. In fact, his .868 save % is better than only Fleury's .798 among starters (and still worse than Luongo's .891). At times yesterday, Pierre Maguire explained that Byrz looked like he was "fighting off" shots. That's not a confident goaltender by any stretch.

The shots on goal in this series are even at 91 each. That's unlikely to change, given the regular season records (33.9/g for the Pens, 32.2/g for the Flyers). The goaltender who makes the most saves most likely wins each game.

Marc-Andre Fleury's .913 save % during the regular season wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible either (27th out of 45 goalies starting at least 20 games). Bryzgalov clocked in at a .909 save %.

If there's a statistical trend that worries me, it's this: In the previous three playoff years (starting with the Cup run in '09), Fleury's save percentages are as follows--.908, .891, .899. Still, had Fleury stopped only 89% of the shots he's seen, the Pens would probably have a 2-1 lead in the series. And there's the solution: Marc-Andre Fleury merely needs to stop 89% of the shots he faces. Oh, and solve that problem with the juicy rebounds, please.

Evgeni Malkin

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Maybe the skates and pads are the problem.

Let's face it, he hasn't been great. Sure, he's got 4 assists, but only 1 of those came at even strength. Sean Couturier has given him fits.

I don't need to do much statistical analysis here: He's the Art Ross and presumptive Hart Trophy winner with 50 goals and 109 points. In the six regular season contests between the two teams, his line was 3G-6A, and save for two assists those points were at even strength. He scored 2G-2A in the three games in Philly.

If Evgeni Malkin doesn't score a goal (or three) in this series, I'll be shocked.

Blown Leads And Comebacks

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Smiles? What are those?

The Pens have lost three straight games in which they've scored first. That flies in the face of what we saw all season. The Pens ranked 9th in the league with a .745 win % after scoring first (incidentally, fairly close to 2010-11's .756 win %). If you were to ask any coach whether he or she would feel confident that they'd win a series if they were to spot the opponent the first goal in each game, they'd emphatically say, "no." They'd expect to lose 3-out-of-every-4 games.

The Pens have blown leads in the first three games, but they've all been first period leads. The Pens were notorious at blowing an early lead during the regular season, as evidenced by their .706 win % when leading after the first period (ranking 19th in the league).

Alternatively, the Pens were the best comeback team in the league this year, winning 45.7% of the games in which they conceded the first goal (Philly was second at 43.5%). They also had the second best win percentage when trailing after the first (.391) and best win percentage when trailing after the second period (.276). Granted, Philly's .867 win % when leading at first intermission was second in the league.

However, if the Pens get to second intermission with the lead, the story changes: Pittsburgh ranked 7th in the league with a .914 win percentage when leading after two periods. Philly's .179 win % when trailing after two periods was 11th in the league. The lesson here is clear--if the Pens can get the lead heading into the third, they'll close it out. Despite recent results, scoring first still gives them the best chance at this.

Momentum

Finally, let's just keep something crystal clear: This team has shown an ability to make a run, winning 11 straight games at one point (yes, I know there were two shootouts in there--sue me). It only takes one game to turn it around and get that momentum going. Bringing it back to Pittsburgh for an improbable Game 5 would make all the difference in the world, and could get those winning juices flowing again. Once the seeds of doubt are planted in the Flyers' minds, and WIP callers in Philly are jumping off of the Ben Franklin Bridge, things could go south in a hurry for the Flyers.

Barring all of the above, I'm not predicting a Penguins win in this series. The hard math, at 3-0 Flyers, just doesn't support that prediction. However, a Pens comeback is not as downright impossible as you might think.

The content expressed in fanposts does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the staff here at Pensburgh.com. FanPosts are opinions expressed by fans of various teams throughout the league but may be more Pittsburgh-centric for obvious reasons.

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