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The Underlying Numbers: Penguins vs. Sabres

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A look at the advanced stats from the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres

Matt Kincaid/Getty Images

Here's an amazing stat, per the Penguins, Pittsburgh has won the last 14 games against the Buffalo Sabres when Sidney Crosby has been in the lineup, and 7 straight overall in the series. It's been a down period for Buffalo lately, and with their rebuild led by Jack Eichel, let's enjoy the wins while they last.

Like last night! Hey, winning is fun, right? The Pens have won 3 straight, and 6 of 7. The results haven't been flawless, but chemistry is being built and some progress is being made on the ice, it seems like. Certainly last night we got some tangible progress with Crosby setting up his 2 linemates for each of their first goals of the season. Plus a power play goal from the big boys, and some more Malkin magic.

Lines and Pairings

Highlights

Positives

Jay-Z In his first NHL start since the 6th grade picnic (April 13, 2014, actually), Zatkoff settled down and got much better as the game went on. Good thing, because he sure saw a lot of pucks as the game went on, especially in the 3rd period where he had to make 23 saves in the final period alone and 50 overall on the night.

Fast start: The hallmark of the Dan Bylsma Penguins era was the infamous "get to our game" quote, hoping jump out early. As happened so many times from 2009-14, the Pens started very fast courtesy of 2 Sidney Crosby assists in the first 7 minutes of the game. They didn't coast to an easy win, but Crosby, Pascal Dupuis and Patric Hornqvist set a great tone early and the new-look first line got the game's first two goals.

Star power: I'm not Bob Grove so I don't have the stats, but I'm guessing when Sidney Crosby scores 2 points, Evgeni Malkin scores 2 points, and the Penguins score 4 goals, they probably don't lose that often. Additionally, Crosby certainly looked more comfortable with Dupuis-Hornqvist as his wingers (2 of the better grinding, wall-battling, straight line players on the team) and Malkin+Kessel are a delight to watch when they have the puck.

It's a power play goal!? Well, whaddya know, the Pens show some life and get a goal on the man advantage. Crosby moves the puck, Kessel shoots the puck, Hornqvist screens the goalie and also makes a nice play with the puck in tight and Malkin is right on the goal-line to slam it home. Everyone did their job to perfection, and it wasn't really all that difficult. More of that, plz.

The Reverend: a 2 point night for Ben Lovejoy, who quietly is having a very good start to the season. The Pens are playing him #3 minutes out of necessity, which as we know is a big ask of Lovejoy, but he's been up to the task so far, and his second effort on the goal he scored was a nice play.

Phil saves the day! And we were told Kessel didn't play defense. Phil didn't score a goal tonight (saving them all for Saturday in Toronto, I'm sure), but his quick stick preserved what would be a badly needed goal defensively for Pittsburgh.

Negatives

Coasting to the finish: Up 2-0 early, the Pens looked like they took the foot off the gas way early in the first period, and a scrappy Buffalo team kept working and would tie the game by the first intermission. Then a similar story later, 2 more goals by Pittsburgh, followed by a coast to the finish where Buffalo shelled the net in the 3rd period, but couldn't quite pull even. True the Penguins were on the second night of a back-to-back, but it shouldn't have been so difficult or lopsided late.

Faceoffs Only one Penguin (Matt Cullen) was over 50% in the circle. None of the centers (Crosby, Malkin and Nick Bonino) got killed in the circle, but none were as consistent or good as they can be. Not a major issue, and faceoffs tend to fluctuate game by game, but the Pens could have had more puck possession (and in theory limited some shots against) starting right from the drop of the puck.

The point of Sprong? Have to agree with Meesh over at Pensblog, not a great game for Daniel Sprong, who hasn't really looked sharp since returning from his work visa issue last week. It's not necessarily his fault by any means, but it close games he isn't going to get a lot of ice-time (a team low 9:28 last night). Sprong has played 8 NHL games, so we're coming up to the 10 game point where if the team keeps him (as they said they planned on) they burn the first year of his contract. With Eric Fehr about to return and Sergei Plotnikov a healthy scratch, Sprong seems like a needless luxury item right now.

The mean old man: Hey, way to be infamous, you mean old man. He''s everywhere from Sportscenter to SB Nation this morning. Yikes.

Stats

Sabres Penguins
Goals 3
4
Shots on Goal 53
29
Even Strength Corsi For Percentage 64.2
35.8



Analytics

Even Strength Shot Attempts

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Things were pretty much equal at the 35 minute mark when the Penguins scored their power play goal to make it 4-2. From there, Pittsburgh does almost nothing, and Buffalo takes off like a rocket. It's part score effects, probably part Penguins being a tired team and maybe some coasting to the end zone by Pittsburgh. Not ideal, but it worked.

Power Play Shot Attempts

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Buffalo bombarded with shots on their power play, but only a handful were from dangerous areas.

Contrast that with the Pens, who only needed 2 shots (a Kessel shot, followed by the Malkin goal) and, for once Pittsburgh was shockingly efficient and successful on the power play, in their one and only opportunity with the man-advantage.

Shot attempt charts provided by War on Ice.

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A lot of the actual Buffalo shots came from the outside, and the Pens did a good job blocking a lot of the in tight shots. And that makes sense, because while Zatkoff was very good, aside from the 6-on-4 flurry at the end of the game, he didn't have to make a ton of spectacular saves, but he definitely did have to be focused and make a lot of saves throughout the evening.

More evidence to show that Buffalo didn't really take that many great shots, but they certainly did have the puck a lot and kept the Penguins hemmed in their own zone enough to take a lot of shots.

Expected Goals map provided by Don't Tell Me About Heart.

A refresher of the key for these charts (except the diamonds are now circles)

More information and description/analysis of Expected Goals can be found here on Hockey Graphs.

In the previous post here using these charts for the first time, I mentioned how it factors in things like shot quality. A more detailed list of what factors into that shot quality is below:

A basic description on how to read these charts: Cross reference a player from each team, and that box shows how many shot attempts each team had while those two players shared ice time.

For a refresher on how to read these charts, a write-up with descriptions of what colors mean, which lines to read, and more: H2H Corsi Chart Primer

H2H Chart via Muneeb Alam from Japers' Rink

5v5 Individual Shot Charts provided by War on Ice

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For this graph, like most the graphs, it's no surprise that Buffalo = good, Pittsburgh = bad, courtesy of that 3rd period rally.

Line-by-line Corsi data provided by Hockey Stats

None today with Darnay on vacation, deal with it jerks! This just in though, it's not a pretty picture!