Given the headline, you must be thinking: “well, duh.”
And you’re right! The Penguins employ the greatest player in the world (please wipe your shoes and leave your Connor McDavid whataboutisms at the door) on their top line. Pittsburgh’s combination of Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, Dominik Simon, and everyone who has slotted into Simon’s spot since his injury, has been producing at a rate that’s ranked first in the league in just about every major statistical category at even-strength.
Now, I know we’ve harped about the Penguins’ top-six carrying the dead weight of the bottom-six on their backs for the majority of the start of this season, so this probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise. However, the surprising thing is just how prolific Pittsburgh’s first line production has been compared to the remaining 30 teams.
Thanks to data aggregated by analyst Tyler Dellow from The Athletic and the fine folks over at Natural Stat Trick, proof that the Penguins are top dog is quite staggering compared to the other star-studded first lines in the NHL. Playoff contending teams that possess elite talents like Nathan MacKinnon, Nikita Kucherov, Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares, McDavid, Jack Eichel, Tyler Seguin, etc. on their top lines don’t even surpass the level of production Crosby and Co. have. When you consider the relentless firepower behind those players and their line mates, that’s a pretty big deal.
The aforementioned stat categories are a combination of things like Goal Difference, Game Score, shooting percentage, and possession metrics like Corsi For percentage.
The Penguins’ first line is scoring more than two goals higher than it’s conceding at 5-on-5, equaling to about a 1.5 clip above the league average. That’s beating the No. 2 team in Goal Difference, Colorado, the club that deploys MacKinnon (47 points), Mikko Rantanen (52 points), and Gabriel Landeskog (38 points) — one of, if not the top line in points accrued.
In the same vein, a high Goals Difference number usually begets a high shooting percentage, and the Penguins are capitalizing at a sparkling 12 percent rate. The Ovechkin-led Capitals are surging right now with an unbelievable (and unsustainable, despite his sniping ability) 13.3 percent SH%, but Pittsburgh is right behind them. Given the below-average goaltending the Penguins have gotten with Casey DeSmith and Matt Murray, it’s been kind of necessary, but that doesn’t tarnish how often they’re hitting twine. Pittsburgh is among the league-leaders in even-strength goals with 77, and a lot of them have come from the top line.
Finally, when you couple the talents of Crosby and Guentzel with the fact that they’ve controlled almost 60 percent of the attempts on the ice together, you’ve got a crazy recipe for success. And then, per Dellow’s further conclusions, when you add in the fact that whenever Crosby jumps over the boards and plays with a mixture of different forwards from other lines, he’s in the top-30 among NHL forward in Corsi (58.2 percent) and first in Goal Difference per 60 at plus-5, it’s insane to think about. The only other team giving the Penguins a run for their money is the Montreal Canadiens. Other major teams don’t even eclipse the league average.
Spouting out stats can be awfully monotonous, but Crosby and his line mates have been spectacular, and if their dominance continues, it’s going to be really fun to watch.