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Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang have a good process, but bad results

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Fancy Stats Friday: a look beneath the surface at the tough seasons for Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang

NHL: New York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

One item we’ve been tracking all season long has been the precipitous fall in Sidney Crosby’s even strength stats. It’s one element of the game that is important and one Crosby has crushed over the years. Well, before this season anyways. The Penguins only score 2.25 goals this year with Crosby on the ice at 5-on-5. Last season it was 3.35. In 2015-16 even with some Mike Johnston funk on him it was still 3.12. Crosby’s 5v5 decline this year is a major reason Pittsburgh has struggled.

And when you think struggling you may also think of Kris Letang. But we thought of Kris Letang for another reason. In this season of rotating wingers for Crosby, Letang is the most common skater to share the ice with Crosby. Sid is a big fan of using his defensemen in the offensive-zone and Letang is typically among the point leaders of his position. The two aren’t necessarily joined at the hip (Crosby has almost 50% of his ice-time this year with different defensemen on the ice) but they are used in tandem as frequently as any center-defenseman combo around.

Looking at some stats versus years prior really demonstrates the struggles of this season (all below from Natural Stat Trick)

Here’s the Corsi numbers, and as highlighted the percentage has basically been steady. If you’re a “glass half full” type, this could be a great sign - Crosby and Letang are still controlling play very impressively to the tune of 56.8% of shot attempts are for the Pens while both are on the ice. That is fairly comforting to know that the problem isn’t that Crosby+Letang are spending too much time in the defensive zone. So, why the issue?

It’s the pucks going into the wrong net, and more accurately they’ve stopped going in the right net. Check the GF/60 dropping a goal and a half from last year. That’s a tremendous crash. The goals against are up slightly, but taking into account that Pittsburgh has received lesser goaltending this season compared to years’ past that’s perhaps to be expected.

What’s very unexpected would be the goals for drying up.

Here we see more of the same as far as scoring chances. This is more evidence that the problem isn’t the process, Crosby and Letang are having the same percentage of scoring chances this year as last year. They’re not struggling (together) because of poor defensive play, they’re mainly struggling because last year they would score a ton off of scoring chances. This year, they’re incredibly snake-bit.

Based on all of this I don’t have to tell you about the next chart and where the shooting percentage is, do I?

5.67% is really, really bad. If the Pens were shooing 8-9% again like the past two years, there wouldn’t be really any cause for concern and the numbers would be looking a lot sunnier for even strength.

This isn’t any one player’s fault, but one major reason is the winger play with Crosby. Last season Conor Sheary was on the ice with Sid for 691 minutes at 5v5 and the team scored 44 goals. This year Crosby+Sheary have played 505 minutes together and the Pens have 22 goals.

The same extends to Jake Guentzel, he played just 306 minutes last year with Crosby and the Pens scored an impressive 18 goals last season. This year the minutes with Sid are way up in Guentzel’s first full NHL season (536) yet the Pens have only scored 16 goals in that time.

Is this all Sheary and Guentzel’s fault? Of course not, but it does demonstrate pretty clearly that the goals dried up this year and the most common wingers do share some of that responsibility. Crosby himself is a big part of this too, last year he scored 30 goals at even strength and this year it’s down to 16.

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What can we take from this? Shooting hasn’t been kind to the Pens 1st line this season, to say the least. The process and work that Crosby+Letang have done together, from a 10,000 foot view is really solid. But their luck and execution offensively have been lacking.

One would think with skill players, it’s simply a numbers game. The more chances, the more chances to score. Water always finds it’s level and perhaps sooner or later the net will start filling like it did in prior seasons.

By the same token, there hasn’t been much positive regression this season and it’s certainly going to be a down year production-wise overall for Crosby and Letang at even strength. Can they snap out of it for the most important time of the year?

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With the Penguins recently playing and not playing all that well against teams like the Rangers and Islanders and Canadiens (not exactly murderers row this year) it made me think about what was going on 12 months ago at this time.

Granted, different teams, different years but the end of March last year saw two shootout losses against followed by 2 blowout losses (to Philly and Chicago who combined for exactly 0 playoff wins, at that)...Followed by ekeing out a shootout win.

Did any of that make a difference or matter in April or May? Did anyone really remember those struggles and an unimpressive stretch?

Nope.

Point being, yeah you can take warning signs in the play if you want, but whether you win 15 in a row or look shaky going into the playoffs it all goes out the window come Round 1, Game 1. Fresh season, fresh start.