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Penguins Historical Perspectives: Part II

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A look at how prior Penguins teams fared through the midway point of the season.

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

We are halfway done with this NHL campaign, which means that we have 40+ games of data to comb through and figure out just how well the Penguins have performed this season. I previously compared how this team did in its first 20 games to prior years' teams through the first 20 games. I'd like to repeat that exercise but this time look at each team through the first 41 games of the season.

We'll start with the most important game-state: even strength. The chart below contains a variety of shot-based and goal-based metrics. I've also included scoring chance numbers since War on Ice recently made that data publicly available (all data below is from War on Ice). I skip the 2012-13 season since that was not a full 82 game season.

SCF% SCF/60 SCA/60 Score Adj. CF% Score Adj. CF/60 Score Adj. CA/60 Score Adj. FF% Score Adj. FF/60 Score Adj. FA/60 GF% GF/60 GA/60
PIT 2014-15 (1st 41 games) 50.8% 25.8 25.0 52.6% 56.0 50.4 52.0% 40.7 37.5 55.3% 2.4 2.0
PIT 2013-14 (1st 41 games) 51.2% 25.5 24.3 51.3% 53.2 50.5 52.9% 40.2 35.8 52.7% 2.4 2.1
PIT 2011-12 (1st 41 games) 55.3% 32.1 26.0 56.0% 60.3 47.4 55.9% 44.7 35.3 50.6% 2.5 2.4
PIT 2010-11 (1st 41 games) 53.5% 30.0 26.1 54.5% 59.3 49.5 54.1% 44.3 37.5 58.3% 2.8 2.0
PIT 2009-10 (1st 41 games) 50.7% 30.1 29.2 50.8% 57.0 55.1 52.1% 43.1 39.6 54.3% 2.7 2.2

Let's start with goals. The Penguins' GF% this year is good and within the range set by previous teams. Their goals-for are slightly down from the highs set in 2010 and 2011 but their goals-against are tied for the lowest in the last five years. This is no doubt due to the outstanding play we saw from Fleury to start the year.

The Penguins' scoring chance numbers tell a similar story. Their SCF% this year is within the bounds of prior seasons, and they're doing it mainly through defense--the Penguins have given up fewer scoring chances per 60 over the last two years. The downside is that the team appears to have sacrificed its offensive production in the process, as the Penguins have not reached the levels of quality shots that they achieved from 2009-12.

The puck possession metrics are a little different. Their score-adjusted FF% is the lowest its been through the first 41 games of a single 82-game season over the last five years, but it still speaks to a relatively good performance given the mountain of injures that this team has had to labor under.

Their score-adjusted Corsi % is flipped. There's a decent gap between the CF% for this year and last year which has moved in the right direction, but it's still not at the levels we saw in 2010 and 2011. This year's team continues to play good defense, however, and has pushed their CF% up by generating more shots at 5v5.

I'm nevertheless still curious about the discrepancy between the CF% and FF% metrics. To see if something is going on, the chart below takes a look at what percentage of total shot attempts against the Penguins have ended up as blocks the last two years.

5v5 Raw Corsi Against 5v5 Raw Blocked Shots Against Ratio (blocks/total)
PIT 2014-15 (1st 41 games) 1,645 437 26.57%
PIT 2013-14 (1st 41 games) 1,748 520 29.75%

What you can see is that last year, the Penguins blocked a greater share of their total shot attempts against. We previously had public research suggesting that shot-blocking was a skill and that teams who block a greater share of shot attempts against were doing something right (we have since lost that article because Vic Ferrari was hired by the Capitals).

But the difference between the two years isn't that much; a 3% improvement in forcing blocked shots probably doesn't wash out the extra 103 shot attempts over 41 games that the Penguins gave up. All in all, I don't think there's anything too different this year with how the team blocks shots.

Now onto the powerplay. We'll look at goals and shots.

PP CF/60 PP GF/60
PIT 2014-15 (1st 41 games) 97.6 7.8
PIT 2013-14 (1st 41 games) 111.7 10.2
PIT 2011-12 (1st 41 games) 110.7 6.8
PIT 2010-11 (1st 41 games) 99.3 6.2
PIT 2009-10 (1st 41 games) 103.4 5.4

The goals this year are good, but that was driven by the Penguins' unsustainable shooting percentage in the first 13 games. The troubling thing is that their shot rates are the lowest they've been in the last five 82-game seasons. I've noted this before. Going forward, the Penguins need to make getting more shots on the powerplay their top priority for the second half of the season.

Finally, let's look at PK numbers.

PK CA/60 PK GA/60
PIT 2014-15 (1st 41 games) 102.8 3.9
PIT 2013-14 (1st 41 games) 105.0 4.7
PIT 2011-12 (1st 41 games) 85.8 4.7
PIT 2010-11 (1st 41 games) 87.5 4.8
PIT 2009-10 (1st 41 games) 89.7 6.2

The Penguins' goal numbers are very, very good this year. But it's not because they're doing anything special with regard to shots against: you can see that the team gives up too many shots while on the PK (they currently sit 20th in the NHL in this category). The stellar numbers through 2012 are likely a product of having Jordan Staal regularly take shorthanded minutes. With Glass, Engelland, and Orpik gone, however, you'd think the Penguins would be able to suppress shots a little bit better while down a man.

Here's a glimpse of who's most responsible for the PK shots this year.

2014-15 PK CA/60
Craig Adams 103.1
Brandon Sutter 103.3
Christian Ehrhoff 106.0
Paul Martin 106.1
Rob Scuderi 108.9
Marcel Goc 109.5

Among all NHL players with at least 50 minutes of shorthanded ice time this year, all of these guys are in the bottom third of that group when sorted by CA/60. Switching things up to help cut down on PK shots against will reap rewards in the future if the Penguins hit a stretch where Fleury's PK save percentage starts to drop.