Pittsburgh Penguins, 2009-10
Goals For: 257 5th
Goals Against: 237 18th
GVT: 20 9th
Points: 101 9th
VUKOTA Projection for 2010-11
Goals For: 243 4th
Goals Against: 234 16th
GVT: 9 9th
Points: 94 9th
Going into the start of HBOs 24/7 series, Pittsburgh was flying high. From a 3-1 victory against the Vancouver Canucks on November 17th to their 5-2 win in Buffalo on December 11th, the Penguins registered an impressive 12 game winning streak. Since then, theyve cooled offwhat did you expect?to a pace of four wins over the past eight games, which of course shouldnt be a cause for concern over the long regular season campaign. Pittsburgh heads into the January 1st Winter Classic against the Washington Capitals coming off a 2-1 shootout loss against the 29th-place New York Islanders, what could have been looked at as a classic trap game.
If you want to stump your friends, just ask them who leads the Penguins in Shots per 60 minutes of ice time. Id be impressed if someone got that question right with their first five tries. Yes, its the underrated Tyler Kennedy. One thing you notice about the Pens is that theyre still the same physical team that wore down the Red Wings in the finals two seasons ago. In addition to the players you see listed below, Max Talbot (8.4 Hits/60), Chris Kunitz (8.2 Hits/60, and he always picks up the pace in the playoffs) and former Flyer Arron Asham (7.6 Hits/60) also throw their bodies around as well. Note: new acquisition Paul Martin didnt qualify for the list below due to his injury-riddled 2009-10 campaign, but he would have led the blueliners with 0.8 takeaways/giveaway (though he would not have made the top three in any others).
Penguins top forwards, by 2009-10 stats
Shots/60: Tyler Kennedy 13.1, Evgeni Malkin 11.5, Sidney Crosby 10.1
Hits/60: Michael Rupp 16.2, Craig Adams 13.0, Eric Godard 9.6, Matt Cooke 9.4
Blocked shots/60: Craig Adams 3.9, Matt Cooke 2.8, Mike Comrie 2.7#*
Takeaways/giveaway: Arron Asham 2.4*, Craig Adams 1.8, Pascal Dupuis 1.4
Net penalties/60: Jordan Staal +0.5#, Mike Comrie +0.4#*, Sidney Crosby +0.3
Faceoffs: Sidney Crosby 55.9%, Jordan Staal 48.3%
Penguins top defensemen, by 2009-10 stats
Shots/60: Kris Letang 6.6, Alex Goligoski 4.0, Zbynek Michalek 3.8*
Hits/60: Brooks Orpik 10.5, Kris Letang 4.5, Zbynek Michalek 3.0*
Blocked shots/60: Zbynek Michalek 5.7*, Brooks Orpik 4.8, Alex Goligoski 3.8
Takeaways/giveaway: Zbynek Michalek 0.7*, Kris Letang 0.6, Brooks Orpik 0.3
Net penalties/60: Alex Goligoski +0.2, Kris Letang +0.1, Zbynek Michalek -0.3*
#Out with injury
Minimum 40 games played
Penguins goaltenders, 2009-10 stats
Quality backup Brent Johnson helped carry the mail for the Penguins with excellent play in the early going, when the mercurial Marc-Andre Fleury was struggling through a 1-6 start. Fleurys back on his game for the time being; both MAF (.918) and Johnson (.925) have posted above average save percentages on the season to date.
Save percentage .905
Even strength save percentage: .908
Power play save percentage: .891
Shorthanded save percentage: .918
Save percentage: .906
Even strength save percentage: .914
Power play save percentage: .849
Shorthanded save percentage: 1.000
The Penguins should be a very good team at the shootout, given two very good shooters in defenseman Kris Letang and center Sidney Crosby, and two well above average netminders in Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson. But it doesnt always turn out that way, does it? MAF got tagged for three goals on four attempts in the shootout loss to the Islanders two night ago, and it was Evgeni Malkin (25.0%) and not Crosby converting his attempt.
Best options, shooters with 10 or more career attempts
Kris Letang: 46.7% (14 for 30)
Sidney Crosby: 40.4% (21 for 52)
Mike Comrie#*: 33.3% (7 for 21)
Chris Kunitz: 31.8% (7 for 22)
Best options, shooters with a limited track record
Pascal Dupuis: 75.0% (3 for 4)
Mark Letestu: 33.3% (1 for 3)
Alex Goligoski: 33.3% (1 for 3)
Marc-Andre Fleury: .724 career (76 for 105), .739 in 2009-10
Brent Johnson: .773 career (34 for 44), 1.000 in 2009-10
THE BIG QUESTIONS FACING THE PENGUINS
Big Question #1: Are the Penguins a championship-caliber roster? Or do they need to bolster their top six forwards for another Cup run?
Sidney Crosby (Question: Are the Penguins a championship-caliber team?): Thats a tough one. You earn that respect or recognition as being that throughout the season and dealing with different things, and were still not even halfway, so I think weve got a long ways to go and Im sure a lot of other teams would tell you the same.
VUKOTA says: Other than Crosby and Malkin, the rest of the top six hasnt been filled with players that were considered world beaters. Chris Kunitz 59 GP, 15 G, 24 A, 39 P, 6.1 GVT. Pascal Dupuis 69 GP, 14 G, 19 A, 33 P, 5.9 GVT. Max Talbot 55 GP, 8 G, 10 A, 18 P, 2.1 GVT. Matt Cooke 68 GP, 12 G, 15 A, 27 P, 4.7 GVT. Of course, Jordan Staal (81 GP, 23 G, 30 A, 53 P, 10.8 GVT) has yet to play in 2010-11, and his addition will be a big one for Pittsburgh in the not-too-distant future.
Timo says: Putting several stars together on one line doesnt always yield the results that teams expect, so one school of thought would be to leave good enough alone, at least on the Crosby line. But even if Staal is able to bolster the Malkin line upon his return, or to provide a superior quality third line center, acquiring a top six quality forward whos got good numbers on the man advantage might be the move that puts Pittsburgh over the top this season (see Big Question #2).
Answer: Absolutely (as long as Crosby stays healthy). Still, adding a power play specialist could greatly increase their chances.
Big Question #2: How does Pittsburgh finally turn superstar components into an above average power play unit?
Head coach Dan Bylsma (Question: One aspect thats been lacking with your team for the past three seasons has been the power play. Its been mediocre at best. Any thought of changing up the personnel of who you put out there with Crosby and Malkin?): No.
Timo says: The good news is that after the departure of power play quarterback Sergei Gonchar, Pittsburghs blueliners have stepped up to the task, to at least keep the Penguins treading water at the same below average but not horrible rate of the previous few seasons: 17.2% in 2008-09 was 20th in NHL, 16.9% in 2009-10 was 19th in NHL and 16.9% in 2010-11 is 19th in NHL. Still, a big improvement could be made by replacing Chris Kunitz (3.3 PPP/60 in 2009-10, 1.5 PPP/60 in 2010-11) with a better contributor
and no, Jordan Staal (1.2 PPP/60 in 2009-10) is even worse. Mark Letestu (3.2 PPP/60 in 2010-11) and Tyler Kennedy (5.8 PPP/60 in 2010-11) have shown promise in limited minutes, but acquiring a specialist thats not on the roster might be even better. Adding a Jamie Langenbrunner (9.2 GVT, 5.1 PPP/60 in 2009-10, 2.5 PPP/60 in 2010-11) or a Jussi Jokinen (8.3 GVT, 4.9 PPP/60 in 2009-10, 5.1 PPP/60 in 2010-11) would be nice, but adding a Teemu Selanne (6.0 GVT, 6.8 PPP/60 in 2009-10, 8.3 PPP/60 in 2010-11) would be ideal
I know that the future Hall of Famer loves sunny Southern California, but are you telling me that the highly competitive Selanne wouldnt be willing to live three months away from home to have a great chance to win another championship and to play alongside Sidney Crosby? You couldnt write a better script. And the Ducksonce theyre out of the Western Conference racecould really use some depth alongside Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan, Fowler and Hiller to retool their roster.
Answer: Ideally, through the acquisition of a power play specialist, or at the very least by experimenting with other forwards on their roster.
Big Question #3: Can Marc-Andre Fleury provide consistently good goaltending to anchor a deep playoff run?
Pittsburgh resident Mike Colligan of The Hockey Writers and Forbes SportsMoney: The only health issues Marc-Andre Fleury has dealt with this year have been ones related to his mental makeup. Fleury chooses not to discuss his slow start to the season, but I'm convinced the devastating loss to Montreal in last year's playoffs was still in his head. He let up some very weak goals in that series and had all summer to think about it. Early this season, he was also missing two very good defensive defenseman in Brooks Orpik and Zbynek Michalek. With both of them healthy, Fleury now has a dominating group of defenders in front of him and his confidence is soaring. He's playing with the level of swagger he had in the Stanley Cup run and looks primed for another.
VUKOTA says: Marc-Andre Fleury 49 GP, .907 save percentage, 3.9 GVT.
Timo says: The Penguins probably have to live with the fact that Fleury is inconsistentthats a given, based on his track record.
Answer: Every season, its a huge question mark for Pittsburgh. Its probably the factor thats the most out of the control of the Penguins management and coaches.
Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
You can contact Timo by clicking here or click here to see Timo's other articles.