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Breaking down the Penguins’ new big three in 2019-20: Crosby, Guentzel, Letang

Have shot rates changed from last year? How are Crosby, Letang and Guentzel shouldering so much of the burden?

NHL: FEB 02 Penguins at Maple Leafs Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Take a look at the Pittsburgh Penguins and it’s no secret right now that a lot of their success so far this season, despite heavy injuries, is due to the play of their top players.

With all due respect to the rest of the roster that’s pitching in when they can, the story of the Pens through seven games is that it’s Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Kris Letang...and then whatever else is able to step up from game to game.

Crosby has recorded at least a point in all seven of Pittsburgh’s games and is off to one of the best starts even in his fabled and illustrious career, recording multi-point games in five of the seven games the Pens have played. Letang had a six-game point streak to start the season. Guentzel is currently on a six-game point streak, and has scored at least a goal in the last four games.

The top stars of the team, the ones that have avoided injury anyways, are playing just like like. Stars. Pure and simple.

That got the gears going, with Evgeni Malkin out, and Phil Kessel gone, how are they doing it?

The overall power play percentage through seven games is 6 for 26. 23.1%, remarkably in line with the 23.0% mark the Pens put up last year to lead the league. There’s not too much to read into that being as the season is still in its infancy, but that’s encouraging to see (especially with a weapon like Malkin sidelined since the fourth period of the campaign) that the Pens’ power play has been similar to how it produced last year.

Is it a result of Kessel and (largely) Malkin being gone? Let’s look at shooting rates/60, per Natural Stat Trick.

Yeah, yeah, caveats for small samples apply, and this data isn’t necessarily all-important anyways, just interesting to see where the shots are coming from on the power play so far.

And it’s not the forwards. All of Guentzel, Crosby and Patric Hornqvist’s shots/60 in power play situations are down. Those three players have scored four of the Pens’ six power play goals (Letang and Malkin each have one as well).

But Letang and especially Justin Schultz have seen their shots/60 rocket up dramatically. It’s early and that can change, but it sure is an interesting wrinkle so far that the defensemen on the Pens’ power play have been launching a ton of rubber with the man-advantage.

How about at 5v5 — the “big 3” of Guentzel, Letang and Crosby have scored 7 of the team’s 20 even strength goals this season. Is that because they’re shooting more?

Overall, not so much. Crosby’s shot rate is actually down slightly. Guentzel has been on a gradual increase as his career has gone on he’s figuring out ways to get more rubber on the net. (Which also is part of the reason why he “only” scored 22 goals in 2017-18, then scored 40 in 2018-19 and already have five in seven games this season).

But rate stats can be a little misleading, or smooth over pure totals. Guentzel, for instance, was playing about 15.6 5v5 minutes in 2018-19. He’s now up to almost a minute more, 16.5, so far early in 2019-20 (no doubt due to the injuries making the depth worse). So while his shooting rate has only marginally ticked up a bit, he’s on the ice more to make for even more shots.

This probably speaks even more to these star players — they’re being asked to do a ton, and still coming through.