Maybe you have heard, but the Pittsburgh Penguins have now lost six games in a row and a lot of people are concerned about that development.
I am not going to tell you how to react or follow your favorite team. Being worried about an extended losing streak (including to four of the worst teams in hockey) is understandable. You are right to be frustrated.
But I am still going to try and keep a level head about it and offer some perspective here.
That perspective mostly boils down to “these things happen.”
Every top team in the league this season alone has had some sort of extended stretch where they have lost a lot of hockey games.
Boston had a stretch where it lost five in a row and eight out of nine.
Immediately before their current seven-game winning streak, the St. Louis Blues had lost five in a row and nine out of 12 games.
The Colorado Avalanche have two different losing streaks of at least four games, including a five-gamer. One of those four-games came during a stretch where they lost 10 out of 14 overall.
The Capitals just recently lost eight out of 11 games.
Tampa Bay followed its 11-game winning streak by losing four in a row until they just snapped it on Saturday with a win over Calgary.
Hockey is a game of streaks. It is a game of inconsistencies. It is, at its very core, a game of mistakes. Most goals are the result of somebody, somewhere, screwing up defensively. The best goal scorers will go on scoring binges and then go without a goal for eight games. The best teams will win seven or eight in a row, and then lose four or five. Over an 82-game season there are going to be peaks and valleys for everyone. The big overall picture is what matters most. Not the most recent sampling of games. That is why I keep asking people that get mad at me for saying they will be fine, “why do the six most recent games matter more than the first 60?” Why would you not trust the larger sampling of what you have seen this season?
With all of that said, I wanted to look back at the longest losing streaks the Penguins have had during the Sidney Crosby Evgeni Malkin era and see how they responded immediately after them. This current streak is tied for the longest. It is also the ninth different time they have lost at least five games in a row. Outside of the 2013-14, as well as the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, they have had at least one four-game losing streak every year.
The table below breaks down every one of the five-or six-game losing streaks by record, goals for, goals against, shot attempt percentage (CF%), shooting percentage, save percentage, and what the Penguins did in the 10 and 15 games immediately after they snapped the losing streak.
Notice anything that all of those losing streaks have in common?
They are all stretches of play where the Penguins still mostly controlled the shot attempts and territorial play, only to be absolutely crushed by unsustainably low shooting and save percentages.
This is reflected visually below from @IneffectiveMath with the red line rockets up at the exact same time the black line for 5v5 goals per shot goes straight down.
If you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. pic.twitter.com/bGXsqpjhFF— Jesse Marshall (@jmarshfof) March 2, 2020
In other words: A team-wide scoring slump teamed up with a goaltending slump and created the perfect storm for a lot of losing. This is what losing streaks are made of, and neither all of the similar ones the Penguins have experienced in the Crosby-Malkin era are identical.
In most of those cases they went on to play at a 95-point pace (over 82 games) or better in the 10-15 game stretches that followed. In several of them it was better than a 100-point pace (again, over 82 games).
In other words: They quickly bounced back.
The first two on the list came during the 2006-07 season, the first year Crosby and Malkin played together in the NHL. It was still a very flawed team overall, but one that was clearly on the rise. The Stanley Cup was never the expectation that season. The 2014-15 stretch came at the tail end of the season (they snapped it with two games to play) during that stretch where they were only dressing five defensemen in a couple of games due to injuries and not having enough salary cap space to call up any replacements. They never really got healthy in the playoffs.
In two of those seasons they went on to win the Stanley Cup.
It is easy to get down when things are not going your way. And while there may be some issues and sloppy play that have emerged over the past six games, and while the power play may still be a mess at times, the bottom line is the team is shooting and getting saves at laughably low (and unsustainably low) rates right now. Neither one of those things are going to continue long-term. At least not as low as they currently are. They are going to rebound. Every time they have gone through a similar stretch they have done exactly that.
This is still a good team. It is still a Stanley Cup contender. What it is going through right now is not unheard of, either for them or any other top Stanley Cup contender.