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20 Games into the Season: How the Penguins forwards stack up to the league

A quarter of the way into the season, we look at how the Pittsburgh Penguins forwards stack up to the rest of the league in some advanced stat measures.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

We really liked this piece on Russian Machine Never Breaks yesterday, where they looked at where the Capitals players ranked, league-wise to sort of contextualize who was playing well and how players are being used. When you see something you like in the blog world, you rip it as soon as possible. So, lovingly, we did just that.

Here's the rub: there have been 378 forwards to play at least 100 minutes this season, and with most teams at or around 20 games played, there's enough data to see how the 2014-15 season is shaping up. This isn't an end-all, be-all, but it does give a little more depth and context to what we have seen so far and is a good way to compare the players we've seen compared with how the rest of the league is playing.

We ranked those forwards, league-wide, by time on ice, PDO, ES points per 60, Corsi relative and offensive zone starting percentage.

Time On Ice

Quintile Players
I [Most time] Crosby, Kunitz, Malkin, Hornqvist, Comeau
II Spaling, Sutter
III Dupuis
IV Downie
V [Least time]
Goc, Sill, Adams

As much as the "new depth" has been touted for the Penguins season, they're still pretty heavily riding their top two lines for ice-time. But Blake Comeau , Nick Spaling and Brandon Sutter are playing a lot too- and obviously Steve Downie would be probably up a notch or two if he weren't spending so much time in the penalty box.

The main thing that sticks out is the little ice-time the Penguins 4th line receives, and as we'll see below, just how little they do with it. They offer nothing more than a few shifts a period to get the other, better players ready to go back out there. This could be quite concerning as injuries mount if those players are forced into bigger roles- and we left Pascal Dupuis in to see where he stacks up. Going forward without him will be a loss. Beau Bennett, by the way, hasn't played enough minutes to qualify. Hopefully he will soon, if not the Pens might need to look for Jayson Megna or other options to play more minutes.


Quintile Players
I [Highest]
Downie, Spaling, Hornqvist, Comeau, Crosby
II Kunitz, Sutter, Dupuis
III Sill, Malkin, Adams
IV Goc
V [Lowest]
no one!

Not surprising to see so many of the Pens at the top part of the league in PDO- and they can thank their defense and goaltender for a solid foundation with save percentage. Marc-Andre Fleury has a very solid .931 ES save % so far this season, meaning a Penguins player (on average) only needs to have a 6.9% on ice shooting % to be in the 100 PDO range. Because of that, a lot of the Pens end up in the top part of the league.

By that measure, Evgeni Malkin might be able to see some improvements soon if he gets a little luckier. Same too, maybe for Marcel Goc if he could get more shifts away from Craig Adams and Zach Sill who just aren't good enough to score any goals.

Aside from that, there's a potential regression awaiting for Downie, Comeau and Nick Spaling- guys who have probably gotten some good luck when they've been out there early in the season. Players like Crosby and Hornqvist are skilled enough to score a lot (and consistently), and probably will end up the season well north of 100 just on that above-average skill. But the more average players can and probably will see a decline over the course of the long season.

Even Strength Points per 60

Quintile Players
I [Most]
Crosby, Malkin
II Hornqvist, Dupuis, Sutter, Comeau, Downie
III Spaling, Kunitz,
IV Adams
V [Fewest]
Goc, Sill

Sidney Crosby and Malkin, as usual, are among the best and most consistent point producers in the league. Surprising to see Chris Kunitz only as a middle of the road player here, one might assume that is mainly of a function of his heavy minutes, but he also only has 8 ES points in the first 20 games of the season (last season he had 46 ESP in 76 games), so the Pens could probably stand to see Kunitz get going a little more.

Impressive to see Comeau, Downie and Brandon Sutter stacking up very well compared to the rest of the league. Shows how good they have been for the team in the first quarter of the year.

Corsi Relative

Quintile Players
I Hornqvist, Crosby, Kunitz
II Malkin
III Dupuis
IV Spaling, Comeau, Sutter
V Sill, Goc, Downie, Adams

By virtue of playing together for most the year, the Kunitz-Crosby-Patric Hornqvist trio has rolled through the league and put up impressive numbers here.

However it has to be concerning that 7 players are in the bottom 150 forwards in the league in possession. Again, the narrative has been that the Penguins depth has been largely improved- and obviously they do have some better players in their bottom six this season that are contributing. But if you look at how they're doing in possession so far this season, it hasn't been great.

Offensive Zone Start Percentage

Quintile Players
I Hornqvist, Malkin, Dupuis
II Sill, Spaling, Crosby, Kunitz
III Comeau, Adams
IV Downie, Sutter
V Goc

This makes some of the above data look even worse. Due to being a good team, the Penguins get a ton of offensive zone starts. With that comes the opportunity to shield players like Sill, Spaling and Adams. And yet they end up with horrible Corsi numbers (and in the case of the 4th line- virtually no offense), despite being able to have such favorable starting positions.

And players like Sutter and Marcel Goc are doing a lot of the unfavorable starts to free up Crosby and Malkin for the more offensive chances. Smart idea.

Overall, the Penguins forwards look a lot like last season- with 2 big time lines being driven by 2 elite centers. The rest of the team is just along for the ride.