It's no secret that Penguins head coach Mike Johnston is extremely focused on his players carrying the puck into the neutral zone and offensive zone. With just one game played so far by the Penguins, we already saw the defense corps working in tandem bringing up the puck. As a breakout unit, they appeared almost as a pack of animals traveling together, giving one another options with the puck. Although, if the Penguins really wanted to have fun with it, they should've used the Flying V against the Ducks. Just sayin'.
These changes to the system also work well in congruence with the roster changes that took place over the offseason. Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen went to Washington, Deryk Engelland signed with Calgary, and the Penguins signed Christian Ehrhoff.
Using data from Corey Sznajder's 'All Three Zones' Project, we took a look at how the Penguins defensemen stack up when it comes to carrying the puck into the zone.
Takeaways from this data:
Kris Letang is just great, and Simon Despres is extremely underrated, especially in this aspect of his game. Paul Martin is a quiet workhorse. Does his thing, nothing flashy, but enough to be a great contributor and get his work done at an impressive rate.
We can see here that the Penguins offseason acquisition in Ehrhoff, is good enough to be ranked 3rd best amongst the defensemen, while Orpik and Niskanen were near the bottom of the defense corps. Deryk Engelland is making 2.9M per year, so I'm just going to leave that one be and let it go.
It's also logical to believe that the Penguins prospects coming through the pipeline, such as Derrick Pouliot and Scott Harrington, possess similar skill sets as players like Olli Maatta and Paul Martin and could have continued success at the NHL level at carrying in the puck.
We also can see the absurdly low percentage of carry-ins for Rob Scuderi. There is practically nothing but room for improvement. With a system in place that supports teammates with the puck, it doesn't put the onus on just one player to bring the puck through the neutral zone. During the Thursday evening game vs. the Ducks, Craig Adams carried the puck through the zone (something I'm not sure I have seen during his tenure with the Penguins), took it to the corner, where he then dished the puck to Simon Despres, who was able to put a shot on goal and generate a scoring chance. If players like Craig Adams and Rob Scuderi can find success under Mike Johnston's system while performing these basic types of plays in their limited skill sets, they will have a place on this roster, like many thought they would not.
We've seen one game of this system from Mike Johnston, but looking at the potential for success in it, combined with these roster moves from the summer, it's easy to believe that things will continue to progress, and it's exciting to think about what the future could hold for this team.
(Note: the data for the Penguins from the 2013-14 season from Corey is not complete yet.)