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Thoughts On The Pens

Pens > Caps
Pens > Caps

First off, I hope everyone had a safe and merry Christmas today! Since I'm done with school for now, I thought it'd be good time to put up a post for the first time in a while.

Let's jump...

  • The Penguins take too many penalties. As of right now, their 16.6 PIM per game is the third highest in the league. But what's more distressing is that the Penguins have been called for 178 minor penalties -- 11 more minor penalties than the next closest team. This team is simply too good to continue to put themselves on the kill at this rate. If they can increase their discipline on the ice, then they'll increase the number of goals they score and get even better (I know that's hard to imagine). I'd like to see improved discipline in the second half of the season. 
  • As a corollary point to the penalty minutes data above, this is a very nice statistic to highlight when some misguided individual (I can't be more descriptive since Frank has a ban on swearing) actually tries to argue that the fix is in for the Penguins, and that the league is out to hand them the Stanley Cup. If there were a conspiracy, there's no way the league would tolerate their referees calling the Pens for all of these penalties. Even if this individual responds that the fact the Pens have had the most PP opportunities screams conspiracy (which is quite silly, since there are other reasons teams draw penalties), that means the Pens are getting no net benefit from the refs, since their penalties for cancel out their penalties against. This would be a pretty terribly designed conspiracy. 
  • Matt Cooke got a nice raise this offseason, but has he earned his bigger paycheck? So far, I'd say no. Cooke's ES points per 60 are down this year, but one could argue that the tougher competition he's faced and his constantly changing line mates provide an acceptable explanation. His 15 points this season are set to outpace last year's total by a couple of points (but if I remember correctly, 2 or 3 of Cooke's goals this year have been empty netters). However, the nail in the coffin, for me at least, is that Cooke is hurting his team when it comes to penalty +/-. Only Mike Rupp and Engel have a worst Penalty +/- this year, but those two guys are making close to league minimum. We know Cooke isn't a point producer, and I'd wager that his quality +/- numbers have been more a product of his teammates than his own play. Ultimately, Cooke can't continue to put his team down a man as often as he does without making up for it. If he doesn't stop, then I think it's fair to argue he's overpaid. 
  • Kris Letang is killing it right now, and his $3.5 million salary is much less than the value he currently brings to the team. I think Letang's season thus far really helps to shed light on the variability of statistics. Over the summer, I argued that Letang was a victim of bad luck rather than bad play last season. There was no way his shooting percentage would remain as low as it was, and his performance thus far is proof of the phenomenon statisticians refer to as regression to the mean. Letang has 31 points (6g, 25a) on the season so far, which is four more points than he had all of last season and twice as many goals. He and GoGo are special players, and I would encourage all of us to remember that when either of them makes a frsutrating mistake, both of these guys are still very young, and have the potential to blossom into top NHL defensemen in the near future. 
  • Sidney Crosby is very good. I haven't heard anyone this season try to argue that Crosby isn't the hands down, runaway leader for the Hart trophy (ignoring the argument that a goalie should win it). But the most impressive thing about this season for Sid is that had his point production and performance dropped off a bit, he'd have a perfectly reasonable excuse. Because Jordan Staal hasn't played at all this year, Crosby has had to pick up the slack at center. He's faced the toughest competition of his career this year, and his 45.7% zone start is the lowest he's ever been dealt. With Bylsma using Crosby in more defensive situations, it would make sense for his numbers to be less impressive. Instead, he's having a career year. Just think about that for a moment. Sidney Crosby is handed the toughest assignment he's ever had, and he responds by roasting the NHL's top players night in and night out. I know it's blasphemy to argue anything other than Gretzky is the best and no one can touch him, but I would wager that Crosby is better, considering he's not surrounded by Hall of Fame talent, and that he doesn't play in a league where expansion teams were like minor leaguers and goalies were content to post an .880 SV%. 
  • Zbynek Michalek has been very good so far for the Penguins. He's a shot blocking machine, and a big reason why the Pens have the number one penalty kill unit in the league right now. He's also solid defensively, and could be even better offensively if he started getting better minutes. 
  • Paul Martin has also been very good. Earlier in the season, Dave Molinari of the Post-Gazette suggested that Martin struggled in the beginning of the season. I would take issue with Dave's point by highlighting that Martin has consistently limited the opposing team's shots while on the ice for the entire season. Martin's 21.9 SA/60 are the lowest on the team, and the next closest guy is Michalek at 25.3. The fact that there is such a big gap indicates that Martin actually has the rare talent to single-handedly limit the opposing team's chances. This is rare because one player on the ice usually can't do much when everyone around him isn't special. But Martin has proven time and again (in NJ and PIT) that he has this gift. Just because he's not scoring points like Letang shouldn't mean Shero overpaid. For more context, Martin's SA/60 is 5th in the league among all defensemen, and his 1.68 GA/60 is 16th in the league among all defensemen. 
  • Malkin has been somewhat of an enigma so far. He has ten points in his last five games, but his 32 points in 31 games this season is not the level of production you want from your $9 million dollar player. On the plus side, Malkin has been the best Corsi player on the Penguins, and his PDO indicates he's due for quite a bit of luck sometime in the near future. But the team cannot wait around for the cards to fall in Malkin's favor. He's been predictably horrible in faceoffs, and his point totals seem even more troubling when one realizes that Malkin skates very easy minutes: he faces the easiest competition on the team and has a very favorable zone start. Ultimately, Malkin needs to do more against the NHL's weaker players if he wants to justify his $9 million dollar salary. His play as of late, though inconsistent, is encouraging, and the jury will remain out until he gets significant time with Jordan Staal. However, if Malkin fails to elevate his game to the level we know he can, management will have to look for solutions in the offseason. Whether these include a new workout regimen, new teammates, or a trade, only time will tell.   
  • Finally, the Penguins have obviously had a lot of success so far this season. The most encouraging thing, however, is that the Penguins haven't been riding Lady Fortune and getting all of the bounces. According to the data at Objective NHL (a phenomenal site that I would encourage everyone to read), the Pens have the 3rd highest Fenwick % and 4th highest Corsi % in the NHL so far (for those who are unaware, Fenwick is shots + missed shots, and Corsi is shots + missed shots + blocked shots). This means that the Pens are possessing the puck much more than their opponents, and driving play consistently in the right direction. As long as they continue to out-shoot the opposition, they'll continue to be an elite team in the NHL. 

That's all I've got for now guys. Tell me what ya think, and go pens!!