A growing fallacy and narrative among Pittsburgh Penguins fans and media alike seems to be that their 4th line isn’t pitching in enough offense, and therefore the team is struggling to win.
At it’s core, both elements of this statement are absolutely true. The Pens 4th line (last night’s game notwithstanding) is failing to generate a lot of offense. And Pittsburgh is certainly struggling to win with just 4 victories (2 via shootout) in the last 11 games.
However, even using time to lay blame at the skates of those that play less than 6-7 minutes a night most games at even strength ignores the giant elephant in the room, and the main cause for the Pens struggles in 2017-18. (Well besides poor defensive efforts and below average goaltending). The main issue for the Pens is that the entire team has drastically seen a reduction in their event strength scoring.
Now that we’re at the 41 game mark, a clean and even halfway, it makes it easy to see the pace the players are on this season. Here’s the link to NHL.com for the stats and here’s the results we found with last year.
(click to make bigger if ya got bad eyes)
So what does this tell us?
The scoring line players have been a disaster
Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary are all going to have much worse years at 5v5 than they did last season. Just no avoiding that at this point. Evgeni Malkin has his scoring down and he hasn’t even missed his customary time to injury that could hurt his overall contribution.
From the back-end, Kris Letang and Justin Schultz have not been able to contribute as much at 5v5 either as they did last season.
The exception to the rule is Phil Kessel, who is basically having the same type of season he did last year at even, which isn’t really amazing at 5v5, but at least he hasn’t dropped off a cliff like literally every other skill player on the team has in the first half of the season.
Some of the supporting players are doing OK
Olli Maatta is by far the one and only bright spot on the team for this outlook of ES scoring. A lot of that has to do with a dreadful season last year with just 7 ESP in 55 games. But, with so much of a negative picture, the bounceback season Maatta is having is worth highlighting and celebrating for his return to form as a top-4 defenseman was badly needed.
Similarly, Riley Sheahan is basically replacing what Nick Bonino did last year. Then again, Bonino wasn’t really all that productive last year, but his lasting memory and perception has a lot to do with playoff heroics and a hot streak rather than any long-term regular season success. Either way, Sheahan’s been about as advertised, possibly even a little better.
Patric Hornqvist is doing about OK, however in a contract year where he’ll be looking for a lot of money to be signed for much of his 30’s, he’s not making much of a statistical case that he’s worth a market type of rate with a future of 20ish ES points per season.
Bryan Rust is now injured again, which will greatly hurt his own contract fortunes since arbitration negotiations and cases are so heavily boxcar stat oriented. However, this is a blessing for the team to probably get him for a cheaper salary than if he had a completely healthy season, any hopes that Rust would have a 2017-esque Sheary type of season and command a similar salary can be put to rest.
And some of the supporting players are not doing OK
Carl Hagelin had what was a career worst year in 2016-17 and has sunk to new lows in 2017-18. The less said the better, except he still finds himself frequently in a top-6 or top-9 role.
Speaking of a player in a high-profile role that is where offense goes to die, Brian Dumoulin is on pace for just 8 points, despite a first pairing role that gives him a lot of ice-time and o-zone time with Crosby. It’s hard not to think about that when Crosby likes to use his point-men so much that Dumoulin just isn’t a reliable offensive-minded player.
Ian Cole has been a victim of healthy scratches and probably shares fortune in Schultz+the forwards not scoring as much, but his numbers are in the gutter as well and he’s provided practically nothing.
And you can point out that 4th liner Tom Kuhnhackl is experiencing a downturn statistically and providing next-to-nothing in a limited role, much like his 4th line comrades this season.
This paints a gloomy picture but there is some reason for optimism despite what’s been a really bad 2017-18 offensively.
PDO breakdown— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) January 3, 2018
Yes, there are a lot of interesting tidbits here.
No, I cannot look at anything other than Pit's spot. pic.twitter.com/RXczbgDnGQ
That is literally off-the-charts bad shooting percentage, as you can just barely see the Penguin logo in the bottom left corner of Sean’s graph. Surely it can’t stay there forever, right? This team still has skill, now they just need to hope they can start hitting the back of the net and hopefully most of the skill players can out-perform what was a dreadful start to the season.