You'll see lots of graphs and pixels and reports and charts and bubbles about the upcoming first round matchup between the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins. And many of them will be great and you'll learn a lot and get all excited for the coming games. In an effort to be a little different and hopefully give some interesting bits of information, here's 10 stats to know about the series.
1. The Penguins had a better season save percentage than the Rangers this year
NYR is known for goaltending, and for good reason. Henrik Lundqvist has been a finalist for the Vezina trophy 5 times in his career and is rightfully known as one of the most consistent top goaltenders in the league.
So it might be surprising that the Penguins actually received better goaltending this year than the Rangers did. Pittsburgh - with Marc-Andre Fleury (.921 sv% in 58 games) and Matt Murray (.930% in 13 games) and Jeff Zatkoff (.917% in 14 games) the Pens ended up with a .918% overall, good for tied-2nd in the league.
The Rangers had Lundqvist (.920% in 65 games), Antti Raanta (.919% in 24 games) and Magnus Hellberg (.667 sv% in 1 game) had NYR at .914% overall on the year, which ended up being tied-11th in the league.
2. This matchup features the two winningest active playoff goalies in the league
Sticking with goalies, Fleury and Lundqvist are the two most accomplished goalies still going these days, in terms of winning games. Below is a screenshot of hockey-reference sorted by wins.
3. The Rangers ranked 4th in the league this season with 1,314 official blocked shots
That's an average of 16 a game! Ouch. As we've seen in the recent past, just because you have the puck in the offensive zone, it doesn't mean that they're even going to get a shot to and in the net on a stingy, defensive-minded NY team.
4. Which is a good thing for them, because the Rangers get out-shot a lot
They ended up a cumulative -381 on the year in Corsi attempts, "good" for 26th in the league, by far the lowest playoff qualifier. In fact, only 3 of 14 teams negative in Corsi on the season ended up in the playoffs (Minnesota and Florida joining NYR). Of the 16 teams that finished with a positive Corsi, 12 of them made the post-season (with MTL, CAR, WIN and TOR being those left out). If a team gets outshot that much, they better get some goaltending and timely scoring, and by hook or crook NYR ended up with a +19 goal differential on the season. They're playing with fire, but it's up to the Penguins to actually make them feel the burn.
5. The Penguins need better starts
The Rangers have been a solid first period team in 2015-16, scoring 66 GF and allowing only 52 in the first twenty minutes of play. Both of those are the 6th best marks in the NHL. The Pens are at 56 GF vs. 67 GA in the first period, but then they become the league's best team in terms of goals for and goal differential in the second period.
Those comebacks become tougher this time of year. Pittsburgh will need to come out of the gate quicker.
6. And to hammer that "better starts" point home
NYR is an impressive 25-3-3 this season when leading games after the 1st period. And unsurprisingly after reading that, they're 33-5-5 when scoring first in a game. If the Pens get in a 1-0 hole, like they commonly did last playoff, it's not probably not going to be very pretty as a team good at blocking shots and with a great goalie looks to sit on a lead later in the game.
7. Home ice advantage looms large
Playing a potential 4 out of the 7 total games at the friendly confines of Consol Energy Center might be a big advantage for Pittsburgh. Out of all the playoff teams in the East in their 41 road games this season, only Philly (18) had fewer road wins than the Rangers (19). Pittsburgh won 26/41 home games this season, including 6 of their last 7. The Pens have also scored a league high 3.54 goals/game at home under Mike Sullivan.
8. NYR Surprises
Player you might be surprised to see his season stat-line and think "wow that guy had a better year than I thought!" J.T. Miller: 22 goals (3rd on team), 21 assists for 43 points (6th team). Not bad for the East Palestine Ohio native's first full NHL season. In fact, he's found himself a nice cog on NYR's top line with center Derick Brassard and team leading scorer Mats Zuccarello.
Player you might be surprised to see his season stat-line and think "wow, that's it?!?" He had some injury issues but 31-year old Rick Nash only scored 15 goals in 60 games this season (after netting 42 in 79 games last season). He catches a lot of grief for his playoff goal production over his career, does he flip the script and have an untypically productive playoff after an untypically unproductive regular season? If Nash is a non-factor in this series, that would seem to bode well for the Pens chances.
9. He ain't Merle, but he is the Hag
In the past 2 playoff seasons, Carl Hagelin has scored 6 points in 12 games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, including grumble grumble the OT series clinching winner last year in Game 5. Fortunately, that will be 0 points against Pittsburgh this year since Hags will be in the black and yellow. Hagelin has modest stats so far this year against the Rangers (0g+2a in 5 games vs his old mates, one of the games coming with Anaheim), but with his speed and the way his line is clicking, he could be a difference maker in going against the Pens to playing for them.
10. The trade pickups
While Hagelin (27 points in 37 games) and Trevor Daley (6g+ 16a in 53 games with Pittsburgh) have been key players picked up in the middle of the season, New York's major recent acquisition hasn't paid as much dividends. After trading for Eric Staal at the deadline, the eldest Staal bro has just 3 goals and 3 assists in 20 games with the Blueshirts. For a team with Brassard and Derek Stepan up the middle, E. Staal doesn't fit as a scoring line center with New York right now, so he's been playing with young, good (but not great) support players Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast.
Amazingly this well be the first playoff for Staal since 2009 when he and his Hurricanes got Geno-bounced out of the post-season dance by Malkin's unreal performance. Is Staal about to step it up? Does he have the capacity to do so in his expected role? We're about to find out, and it's one of dozens of interesting storylines that will play out.
There you have it, 10 facts and some key factors from this regular season to setup the first round matchup. But, of course, the thing about the regular season is that it's just regular. Playoffs start a whole new page and a whole new chance to chart a new course. The Penguins have a lot of encouraging factors heading into this series, but that won't mean much without actually going out and performing now that the games really matter. Tomorrow night we'll start figuring out what it all means.
Also - we have a Pensburgh NHL.com bracket challenge! Free to join, fun to play, so let's go: