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Penguins Powerplay - More Than A Hot Streak

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The Penguins powerplay has been one of the best in the league recently. Can that continue?

Matt Kincaid/Getty Images

The Penguins started their season scoring only twice on 31 powerplays in their first nine games - a 6.45% conversion rate. In the following 15 games since then, they have scored 13 goals on 56 attempts (a 23.21% PP). No other team has scored more powerplay goals in that span.

Is it only a hot streak? Last season, the Penguins had a 30% PP over the first two months. Then from November to April, they converted on only 14% of their powerplays. Here is a look at both "Hot" and "Cold" streaks from the last two seasons. To compare them, the Penguins' average numbers on the powerplay from 2010 to 2014 were added:

GF60 = goals scored per 60 min

CF60 = shot attempts generated per 60 min

SCF60 = scoring chances generated per 60 min

Scoring Chances are shot attempts, that are considered more likely to end up as a goal (=rebounds, rush shots, and shots from close to the net). You can find a more thorough definition on War-on-ice.com.

At first glance, it looks like the Penguins created the same amount of shots during their hot and cold streak in 14-15. They just had a very high shooting percentage during their hot streak, and very low shooting percentage during the cold streak. But looking at the scoring chances, they created fewer dangerous shots during the cold streak. So while some of it was bad luck, the Penguins PP during the 14-15 cold streak was also not very good.

This season during their cold streak, the Penguins failed to create enough shots. Yet looking at their scoring chance generation, they were better than during each of the 14-15 streaks.

Their current hot streak may not be a hot streak, but more of a "the way it's supposed to happen" streak. The shooting percentage is close to their average over the last four years during that span. And if one includes the low scoring start, their shooting percentage over the 15-16 season is still one of the lowest in the league.

Their shot generation is trending in the right direction (in the last eight games, they have a 108 CF60 on the powerplay), and their scoring chance generation is extremely high. In fact, since 2005 only two teams finished a full season with a better number:

  • San Jose, 2010-2011, 69.4 SCF60
  • Washington, 2009-2010, 64.3 SCF60
The Sharks powerplay ranked 3rd in the league. The Capitals powerplay was 1st in 2009-2010. Other teams with similar numbers, that had powerplays that ranked first in the league, include the Penguins in 2013-2014, and the Red Wings in 2008-2009. But it's not a guarantee for success. The Sharks in 2013-2014 created a ton of scoring chances, but their powerplay only ranked 19th.

The Penguins themselves have a few seasons with highly ranked powerplays. Here is look at their scoring chance generation each season. On top of each bar is what rank the powerplay finished at.

Penguins Powerplay, PP Scoring Chance Per 60 + NHL PP% Rank, 2008-Now

It's seems that for the Penguins, creating scoring chances is important for having a successful powerplay. During their best seasons on the powerplay (2011-2014), they generated a lot of chances. During their worst years (last season included), they failed to create much on the powerplay.

Unstoppable First Unit

The Penguins have two powerplay units.

  • Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Hornqvist, Letang
  • A combination of Perron, Kunitz, Bennett, Bonino, Dumoulin, Cole, Maatta, etc., ...

At times this season, the Penguins have experimented with splitting up Crosby and Malkin and creating to equal units, but have quickly gone back to a clear cut first unit loaded up with talent.

And that first unit has been incredible.

A look at all NHL players this season, and their scoring chance generation compared to their average powerplay time per game. Every non-Penguins player is gray, every Penguins player yellow. Right side of the graph = high scoring chance generation. Left side = low generation.

Scoring Change Generation on the Powerplay, 15-16

So far, the Penguins first powerplay unit is the best in the league at creating powerplay scoring chances.

Their second powerplay unit is below average, though. Those players aren't getting a lot of powerplay minutes, but even compared to other NHL players with similar ice time, they are underperforming when it comes to generating offense.

But it goes even further than that. The Penguins first powerplay unit is not just good compared to other players from this season. Looking at 2005 to now, here are all NHL players' powerplay numbers from each season. Yellow = Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Letang, Hornqvist in 15-16. Gray = every other player. And again, right side = higher generation rate.

So far, the Penguins first powerplay unit is generating scoring chances at a rate that nobody else has. A few players are close, with most of them coming from the aforementioned Sharks and Capitals teams.

Here is the first units' current scoring chance generation compared to their last 4 years. Of course, Kessel and Hornqvist have played most of those years on other teams.


Where are the chances coming from? A look at each player's individual scoring chances that they created:

Malkin leads the pack in generating scoring chances. But the other forwards aren't far behind, showing that the Penguins get a very balanced contribution from each of them. On the point, Letang isn't really in a position where most of his shots would count as a scoring chance.

Again, the second powerplay unit doesn't look great here. They don't need to create as many chances as the 1st unit, but that none of the forwards is really outperforming the d-man on the first unit is an issue.

Going back to Letang. Looking at all NHL d-men and their contribution on the PP, his individual scoring chance rate is on par with other d-men like Ehrhoff, Franson, Karlsson, Leddy, Keith.

NHL D-Men, Individual Scoring Chance per 60 on the PP, 15-16

A few d-men, like Weber and Faulk, create scoring chances at an incredible rate. Both of them are used very uniquely on their team's powerplay, and it shouldn't come as a surprise that they lead the league in powerplay goals scored by d-men.

Will It Continue?

The Penguins have been very good at generating scoring chances, but the season is long. Opponents will continue to plan their penalty kill to shut down the Penguins powerplay, and it will likely get harder to generate offense as the season continues. On top of that, injuries and cold streaks may happen.

But if they can continue producing chances at such a high rate, they put themselves in a good position for continued success. And then it's going to contribute to the Penguins winning games.

Though just like Fleury's excellent goaltending has masked defensive issues, a strong powerplay can mask offensive ones. Even strength scoring will need to improve in the future. A low shooting percentage, but also not enough shot generation have caused the Penguins to look worse offensively at even strength than what their roster is capable of.

Data via War-on-ice.com/NHL.com

Graphics created with Tableau