Seeing a tweet yesterday about Patrice Bergeron’s excellent results last season made me want to dig in a big and examine the Penguins’ performance last season. I also included all the other Metropolitan Division teams in the background of this view in order to reflect the competition. (Except for New Jersey, I forgot to add them in. Poor, forgettable New Jersey). As you would expect for expected goals, a lot of the Blue Jackets, Flyers and Islanders players last season did not drive great results. And then a lot of the Penguins, Hurricanes and Capitals’ forwards are on the right side of this outlook.
Two of the players that everyone loves to talk about (or hates to love to talk about, anyways), Dominik Simon and Zach Aston-Reese immediately catch attention for sticking out to the right. Which means they had some of the lowest xGA in the division. Simon looks better with his xGF in charts and graphs where he is expected to drive great results...But then we all know the issue was not having the ability to have offensive results match the excellent process. It’s nice to excellent at driving play, but then accomplished little once getting there and eventually loses its luster.
This outlook also perhaps shows part of why the team was willing to move onto Zach Aston-Reese, he was at a matching 1.9 xGF and xGA. That defensive suppression work was — as it usually is for Aston-Reese, legitimately impressive and worth saying. But the individual offensive side of his game had dried up just as much, leaving him to look like a fourth line player that plateaued when his actual offensive contribution also fell short of the expectation.
The Pensburgh player season reviews highlighted the very free-wheeling nature of the Penguins’ top line, with Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby as high up as anyone in the division for generation. But a lot was given back. In an ironic twist for reputation/narrative versus reality, Bryan Rust saw the most expected goals allowed of all Pittsburgh forward. That probably speaks more to team style and results than Rust’s actual defensive play and ability, but still is a funny happenstance.
One big boost for the top line’s xGA would be a return to health and bounce-back from Brian Dumoulin. Without him (or the healthy version of him) to be a staple for the top dogs and do a lot of the “dirty work” to retrieve pucks and suppress scoring chances, the xGA of the top forwards ballooned up.
Jason Zucker is a player who draws ire for failing to convert his chances, but as usual his analytics point to a situation where mostly good things are happening on the right end of the ice while he is out there. Not much is truly expected of him by many, given his injury history, but in a contract year he has to be considered a player to exceed expectations at 5v5.
And for all the talk that Evgeni Malkin has lost too much at even strength, his results of a 3.0 GF/60 to a 2.4 GA/60 stand out very well. That jives with the theory that a lot of Malkin’s issues last year stemmed from inconsistent and subpar winger play, an area the Pens will no doubt be hoping the full-season addition of Rickard Rakell will help boost (either himself, or by bumping Rust to Malkin’s line).
With Evan Rodrigues gone, it will be interesting to see how the new-look bottom six performs. Rodrigues was a main driver in shooting the puck last season, and some of the WOWY metrics for players like Kasperi Kapanen reflect quite a bit that a look like this is influenced heavily by the departed player.
Another departed player, Brian Boyle, did a really good job in a small but perfectly-placed role in expected goals — and unlike other lower line forwards converted it into actual goals as well. This is not a new thought, but is worth repeating that players like Ryan Poehling and Josh Archibald who are new to the team and likely going to be in that 12th/13th forward spot like Boyle was last year have some really big skates to fill (and not just literally).