The Penguins’ success can’t be modeled


The 2017 Pittsburgh Penguins relied on a devastating combination of greatness and luck to become the first team in 20 years to win back-to-back Stanley Cups.

In a lot of ways this latest championship was pretty improbable given the obstacles and adversity they had to overcome along the way.

They had nobody playing the role of a No. 1 or No. 2 defenseman and had to travel a daunting path through two of the four best teams in the NHL before even reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. What made it even more incredible was the fact they spent most of the first-two rounds getting outshot, outchanced and outplayed, leaving heavily on their goaltending to get them through.

Given the copycat nature of professional sports it’s probably worth looking at just how the Penguins reached this point because there is no doubt that the NHL’s 30 general managers outside of Pittsburgh are breaking this title run down to see if there is anyway they can apply it to their teams. We saw in the aftermath of their 2016 championship when “speed” and “play fast” were the buzzwords thrown around the NHL in the offseason.

The reality is this: What the Penguins did this postseason can not be duplicated.

It is not unfair to say that the Penguins experienced a good deal of luck along the way to their latest championship. Because they did.

Every team that wins a title needs a little bit of luck to get there, and most teams that get outshot to the degree the Penguins did in the first three rounds don’t typically get through them unscathed.

The Penguins were just the 15th team over the past 30 years to reach the Stanley Cup Final while getting outshot through the first three rounds of the playoffs (they were outshot by 46 shots).

They were only the fifth team in that group to actually end up winning the Stanley Cup.

There is an element of good fortune there, and it comes largely from the play of their goaltenders — Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury — playing brilliantly and keeping them in a lot of games. With anything less than greatness from that spot the Penguins’ playoff run probably ends in the first or second round. A hot goaltender carrying a team deep into the playoffs isn’t anything shocking. It happens.

But luck wasn’t the only key ingredient to this run.

There was also an element of greatness to it when it comes to their offense and ability to put the puck in the net.

They did it in a rather unconventional way, and in a change from what we saw from them last season they were a puck possession monster that steamrolled over every opponent and averaged 35 shots on goal per game.

This postseason the Penguins managed just 28.7 shots on goal per game, a number that was not only the lowest for any Stanley Cup champion over the past 11 years, but they were the only champion during that stretch that did not average at least 30.5 shots on goal per game. They were nearly two shots per game behind every other recent champion. That is not an insignificant number.

They had the third-lowest shot volume of any team in the playoffs this year.

But because they converted on 10.8 percent of their shots they still managed to average more than three goals per game.

For most teams a 10.8 shooting percentage would be an unsustainable number that would be almost certain to regress.

The Penguins are not most teams.

The Penguins are able to make it work because they have the best collection of forwards in hockey led by a pair of generational talents in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, an elite goal-scorer in Phil Kessel, and a group of complementary players that help form four lines that are all capable of scoring.

This is what elite talent does and it is not something to just easily write off.

Whenever a team has a shooting percentage that sticks out significantly above the league average — as the Penguins were this postseason —  there is a rush to paint it as unsustainable. But the Penguins’ shooting percentage this postseason was almost perfectly in line with what they have done during every year of the Crosby-Malkin era. The lone exception was the year-and-a-half Mike Johnston was their coach.

The Penguins don’t always need to generate a ton of shots to score. They don’t always need to dominate the possession game.  They would almost certainly prefer to play that way. They probably don’t want to have to rely on counterattacking and great goaltending to win. But given the makeup of their roster this postseason on defense they almost had no choice but to play that way. And it worked.

It would not work for just about any other team in the league because nobody else has the type of high end talent the Penguins have.

The key to duplicating what the Penguins did this postseason would be finding another Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel to go with a collection of young, cheap complementary forwards (Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel, Conor Sheary) all hitting the NHL at the same time. That is, quite simply, not likely to happen.

The Penguins’ Stanley Cup win this season was not a sign that teams don’t need a No. 1 defenseman to win.

It shouldn’t lead to the conclusion that shot metrics don’t matter.

It also shouldn’t be completely written off as a lucky team that just got hot at the right time.

It simply shows the Penguins, through some good fortune in a couple of draft lotteries more than a decade ago, a blockbuster trade, and some shrewd drafting and developing built a collection of forwards that is unmatched anywhere else in the NHL, playing in front of two No. 1 goalies.

It was a unique roster, and it worked for them.

It will almost certainly not work for anyone else because there is not another Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin walking through the door for the same team at the same time.

The Buzzer: Kempe, Schwartz record hat tricks; Leafs honor Gord Downie

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Players of the night: Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues / Adrian Kempe, Los Angeles Kings

The Blues forward tallied his third career hat trick during a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. Schwartz scored the game’s first two goals before completing his hat trick with a late empty-net goal to stave off a Chicago comeback.

Wednesday’s feat for Schwartz came three years to the day of his first career three-goal game.

Kempe, meanwhile, tallied his first NHL hat trick and finished with four points during LA’s 5-1 rout of the Montreal Canadiens. Two of his three goals were assisted by Mike Cammalleri, who also finished the night with four points.

Highlight of the night:

Eddie Olczyk returned to the NBC broadcast booth as he continues his battle against colon cancer. Olczyk, along with Doc Emrick, called the Blues-Blackhawks game from Scottrade Center Wednesday night.


Auston Matthews recorded the 20th multi-point game of his career. He now has six goals and 10 points on the season.

Patrick Marleau became the 18th NHL player to reach the 1,500-game mark.

Jake Allen kept his shutout bid alive with this great stick save on Patrick Kane late:

-The Kings are off their best start in franchise history at 5-0-1. They’ve allowed only 10 goals against through six games.

Jeff Carter left the game in the first period and did not return after tangling with Jeff Petry. Afterward, Kings head coach John Stevens said the forward will miss some time.

-Finally, The Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie passed away from cancer at age 53 on Wednesday. The Maple Leafs paid tribute before their game against the Red Wings.

Factoid of the night:


Maple Leafs 6, Red Wings 3

Blues 5, Blackhawks 2

Kings 5, Canadiens 1

Cammalleri, Kempe power Kings over Canadiens

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Adrian Kempe recorded his first career NHL hat trick and Mike Cammalleri added two goals as the Los Angeles Kings beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-1.

After Paul Byron opened the scoring for Montreal midway through the first period, the Kings responded with five unanswered goals to hand the Habs their sixth straight defeat.

Cammalleri, who inked a one-year deal over the summer to return to the Kings, had a hand in four of LA’s five goals. He started the scoring for the Kings in the first period by celebrating the Dodgers’ playoff run with his own special kind of baseball swing.

Kempe, who finished with four points as well, scored his three goals over a span of 10:50 in the third period to help the Kings to their best start in franchise history (5-0-1).

LA remains the only NHL team yet to lose in regulation this season.


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Jaden Schwartz’s hat trick leads Blues over Blackhawks

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Jaden Schwartz‘s third career hat trick helped power the St. Louis Blues over the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 in a Central Division clash Wednesday night at Scottrade Center.

Schwartz’s eventful evening began with a goal 4:46 into the first period. It was nearly ended minutes later after a scary crash into the end boards following a scoring chance.

After missing some time, Schwartz returned in the second period and doubled the Blues’ lead with his fourth of a season, thanks to a great outlet pass from Allen.

As the Blues built up a 4-0 lead, the Blackhawks spoiled Allen’s shutout bid with a pair of late power play goals 80 seconds apart. The furious rally was stopped, however, and Schwartz capped off his hat trick with an empty netter to put the game out of reach.

St. Louis dominated the first two periods, outshooting the Blackhawks 26-8 as they built up their 2-0 lead. The Blackhawks’ power play failed them early in the game, missing out on five chances to capitalize with the extra man through 40 minutes.


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Canadiens at Kings

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The Montreal Canadiens play their second game of a three-game west coast trip Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Kings.

It hasn’t been the best start for the Habs, who sit tied for last in the Eastern Conference with a 1-4-1 record. They’re winless since an opening night win over the Buffalo Sabres. On the other side of things, the Kings are the only NHL team that has yet to lose in regulation. Their 4-0-1 start puts them a point behind the Vegas Golden Knights, and their game in-hand gives them the opportunity to leap into first place in the Pacific Division with a victory.

You can check out tonight’s game on NBCSN (10:30 p.m. ET) or online via the live stream.



Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.