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Historical Comparisons Through The First 20 Games

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A look at how the Penguins have performed through their first 20 games this season, and how that compares to their performance in seasons past.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Penguins have played more than a quarter of this season's schedule and they're off to a good start. What I'd like to do is compare how this year's team looks relative to the Pittsburgh teams of previous seasons. To do this, I'll break down some data for even strength, power play, and shorthanded situations.

A brief note before we get started. When talking about team-level possession, we used to always use score-close metrics like Fenwick close and Corsi close. However, a recent article from Micah McCurdy illustrated that close metrics are less predictive (and thus less helpful) than using raw Corsi and raw Fenwick. That is, it's better to use even strength Corsi and Fenwick for all score situations than it is to rely on score close metrics.

Better yet, we should ideally use score-adjusted numbers. Eric Tulsky first wrote about this concept in 2012. In short, score-adjusted fenwick includes all fenwick data from every minute of the game, regardless of the score. But it weights that data based on the average team's possession rate in a given game state. For example, we know a team leading by 2 or more goals gets about 46% of the shot attempts at even strength. So if the Penguins have a 50% fenwick when leading by 2 or more this year, their score-adjusted measure will give them a nice bump since they beat the league average possession rate for that game state.

There is a website devoted solely to producing score-adjusted fenwick and corsi measures. You can search that website by date too, which made it very easy to figure out what the Penguins' score-adjusted Fenwick was for the first 20 games in a given season.

With that note out of the way, let's look at even strength numbers. The numbers below are team-level stats in the first 20 games for the last three 82-game seasons. I did that so we can update these numbers along the way this year at the 40-game, 60-game, and 80-game mark.

EV Score-Adjusted Fenwick % 5v5 CF% 5v5 CF/60 5v5 CA/60 5v5 GF/60 5v5 GA/60
PIT 2010-11 54.1% 53.42% 57.90 50.48 2.64 2.43
PIT 2011-12 54.2% 53.88% 59.43 50.87 2.20 2.40
PIT 2013-14 54.2% 51.47% 52.11 49.14 2.26 2.08
PIT 2014-15 54.5% 51.97% 55.59 51.38 2.74 1.78

Pretty crazy how similar their score-adjusted fenwick percentage has been in the first 20 games for each season. The same goes for their raw numbers as well. Breaking it down into shots for and against, we can see that this year's team has not reached the incredible shot generation rates they had in 2010 and 2011, though this year has been better than last year. Shots against has remained relatively constant, with the Penguins letting up the most attempts against this year.

Their goal numbers at even strength blow their previous ones out of the water, but the Penguins' PDO of 102.3 this year means those numbers will move closer to average.

Now let's take a look at powerplay numbers for the first 20 games.

CF/60 GF/60
PIT 2010-11 97.02 4.55
PIT 2011-12 107.23 6.36
PIT 2013-14 109.74 7.35
PIT 2014-15 102.44 12.95

The GF/60 numbers jump out for this year. But as I've previously suggested, those numbers are driven by an unsustainable shooting percentage, which means the Penguins will have to make up that differential with more shot attempts as the year goes on. In terms of CF/60, their numbers are down relative to the last few years, which could easily be due to the players adjusting to different coaching expectations.

Finally, a look at how the Penguins' penalty kill stacks up with previous teams through the first 20 games.

CA/60 GA/60
PIT 2010-11 85.14 4.48
PIT 2011-12 92.05 4.38
PIT 2013-14 104.45 5.91
PIT 2014-15 104.43 4.39

Nothing unusual here. This year's CA/60 is identical to last year's, but the team hasn't been able to replicate their dominant performance from the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Nevertheless, the Penguins continue to limit goals against while shorthanded thanks to Fleury's very solid 4v5 save percentage.

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Overall, the powerplay and penalty kill aren't that different compared to last year. And relative to earlier seasons, they've actually been a bit worse in terms of shot attempts this year.

There's a similar story at even strength. Despite the Penguins mentioning "puck possession" in public more often this year, their even strength numbers through the first 20 games are identical to those from years past. That the Penguins previously cared about puck possession is a point I've made before (see here and here). Whether they're able to maintain their top-5 status this year will depend on the health of this team, which recent events cast a bleak shadow over. Their 5v5 goal differential is obviously through the roof, but smart money says those numbers will regress.

While the Penguins have hit the ground running this year, they've tended to do that in the past through the first 20 games. As we know all too well, though, their measuring stick will come in the playoffs.