Crunching the numbers from an amazing run by Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins

3 Comments

Look, I understand the fact that many hockey fans suffer from the occasional bout of Sidney Crosby overload. Still, sometimes you just have to put your puck-based prejudices aside and marvel at some amazing hockey craftsmanship. Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins are simply on an amazing run right now – and with the team on its first 10 game winning streak since 1999 – I thought it might be wise for us to stop and smell the statistical roses.

Pittsburgh’s impressive streaks

You can break down the Penguins’ amazing run in a few different ways. Most obviously, they are on a 10-game winning streak. However, you can go back a little further to find a longer run of impressive play; since losing twice in a row to start the month of November, the Penguins are 13-1-1 in 15 games (earning 27 out of a possible 30 points in that span). They are also 13-2-1 during Crosby’s 16-game points streak.

Some of the other numbers from Crosby’s 16-point streak

It’s easy to isolate the big, obvious numbers from Crosby’s run: 18 goals and 15 assists for 33 points in those 16 games. Let’s look at some of the other numbers, though: he earned a +12 rating during that run and supplied three game winning goals. He also won at least 50 percent of his faceoffs in 10 of those 16 contests, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Crosby carries the offense

By my calculations, the Pittsburgh Penguins scored 52 goals during Crosby’s 16-game streak. Counting his goals and assists, Crosby accounted for 33 of those goals, meaning that an amazing 63.46 percent of the team’s goals were created by Crosby.

Meanwhile, Evgeni Malkin has been pretty solid (if inconsistent) when he’s been healthy during that stretch: five goals and eight assists for 13 points in 13 games played. The only issue is that those results are spotty; that span includes one three goal and one three assist game. (See his game logs.)

(Still, it’s pretty stunning that adding up the Penguins’ second highest point producer [Kris Letang, 26 points] with Malkin [22] only equals Crosby’s outstanding output.)

It’s an amazing achievement for Crosby, but the natural question is: what happens when he hits a snag, something one can only assume might happen during an 82-game season?

Marc-Andre Fleury’s resurgence

The other marquee talent driving the Penguins’ amazing run is Fleury. His redemption is sweet retribution for the patient Pittsburgh front office and proof that it’s important to give young goalies the time to get their games back together when they falter. (Carey Price is another prime example.)

Honestly, I’ve been pretty tough on Fleury, so here is a stats-based olive branch.

Numbers from his nine game winning streak

  • He allowed only 14 goals in those nine games, with four against Carolina being the most in any single contest.
  • Fleury stopped 252 out of 266 shots for a save percentage of approximately 94.7 percent.
  • The 2003 No. 1 overall pick earned a shutout in those nine games and only dipped below a 90 percent save percentage once: against Carolina.

And if you want to know his numbers during the Crosby streak …

  • In the 13 games Fleury played during Crosby’s 16-point streak, he went 11-1-1 with 23 goals allowed. He stopped 336 out of 359 shots for a 93.59 save percentage.

So, as you can see, Crosby isn’t the only Penguins player on a hot streak. The oddest bit might be that his most common even-strength teammates (Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis) are experiencing fairly bland statistical seasons. Kunitz only has 17 points and Dupuis only scored 13, behind three Pittsburgh defensemen.

Points from defensemen

Speaking of that, three of the team’s top six scorers over the entire 2010-11 season are blueliners. Letang has an astounding 26 points in 28 games while Paul Martin produced 14 and Alex Goligoski came in right behind with 13.

Conclusions

I hate to be a downer, but the Penguins should heed a bit of a warning: one player producing more than 63 percent of your offense obviously places a tremendous burden on that individual. Even if that individual is one of the best players in the world.

Then again, Malkin is hobbled and the team is playing without valuable two-way center Jordan Staal, so you cannot blame the Penguins for leaning on their red-hot captain so much.

The best part about Fleury’s resurgence is that they also know that they have a capable backup in Brent Johnson, who stole much of the young goalie’s thunder in the beginning of the season.

All disclaimers about balance aside, the Penguins are winning at an amazing rate, whether those victories come from blowouts (like a 7-2 drubbing of the Blue Jackets) or hard-fought one goal wins (such as last night’s 2-1 squeaker against the Devils). In a sport with such a small margin of error, you have to take what you can get … and Pittsburgh is taking it all right now.

Nylander already showing flashes of brilliance for Maple Leafs

Getty
Leave a comment

After a contract holdout that extended almost until the last minute on Dec. 1, William Nylander finally signed with the Maple Leafs, yet he was unable to generate a point in his first two games back. One could almost feel the restlessness build in Toronto, but there were breakthrough moments in the Maple Leafs’ 4-1 win against the Hurricanes on Tuesday.

Granted, there were also some breakdowns on Nylander’s part, too. Some of that is just the nature of the beast when it comes to NHL hockey, but rust is a factor, as well.

Nylander generated his first two points of 2018-19 in Tuesday’s win, both being assists.

His first didn’t seem like an assist at all, as Morgan Rielly was credited with a goal after it became clear that Dougie Hamilton was guilty of a tragicomic own-goal. Nylander’s second assist came on a brilliant pass to Patrick Marleau, who converted on what was the hockey equivalent of a layup:

Nylander might just deserve that token assist, really, as he made another brilliant pass to Marleau that did not result in a goal.

That’s some great stuff, and the Maple Leafs have the potential to be truly terrifying if Nylander, Marleau, and Nazem Kadri can make for a strong line while Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner also confound defenses at different times. We’ve seen a lot of NHL teams load up with supreme top lines, hoping that the gains would offset any losses. Toronto could score a monumental advantage over most opponents if they can really leverage this depth.

As tantalizing as those thoughts are, it’s not as though Nylander is a finished product.

The 22-year-old experienced some sloppy moments during that same game against Carolina, finishing the night with six penalty minutes. Maybe his high-sticking penalty ranks as one of those things that just happens, but Nylander essentially had to take an interference penalty out of exhaustion, as he was caught out on the ice during a shift that went too long.

After the game, Nylander acknowledged that some shifts went too long, while Mike Babcock had an interesting take on what the winger is going through.

“It’s going to take some time, let’s not get carried away,” Babcock said. “They’re all fine as long as the ice is open. As soon as it is in contact and you’ve got to get your legs going and you can get stuck out on a shift. He took a penalty the one time he got stuck out on a shift … It’s going to take some time. We’ll be patient and he has to be.”

Maple Leafs fans should be heartened by that last sentence: the team will be patient with Nylander. That’s crucial, and it’s especially promising coming from a coach who can sometimes be … hard-driving, like Babcock’s known to be.

Now, about that patience: when should the Maple Leafs expect Nylander to be at full speed?

Ignoring the potential advantages that come with skipping months of bumps and bruises by beginning his season in December instead of October, Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that Toronto believes that a player gets truly up-and-running about 12 days after training camp.

By the best estimates of the Leafs sports science department, it typically takes a player 12 days after training camp before his heart rate levels out during exertion.

That would put Nylander on schedule to be functioning at his peak sometime in mid-January after hitting the ground running last week and so far playing more games (three) than he’s had full practices (two) with the Leafs.

As much as any other team, the Maple Leafs have the resources to research such sports science issues, so the league should keep an eye on developments like these. If any league could see a franchise exploit “rest versus rust” for, say, gains in the playoffs, it might be someone in the NHL. Plenty of franchises lack that eye for innovation, so those who do might enjoy at least a brief edge.

The thing is, it’s human nature to fixate on mistakes like Nylander’s interference penalty, and lose sight of the big picture (his assists, and strong overall play).

Consider that, according to Natural Stat Trick’s individual rates, Nylander’s Corsi For Percentage was 61.29-percent on Tuesday, the second-best mark of any Maple Leafs player in that game (Igor Ozhiganov topped all at 65.22). Perhaps you can nitpick that a bit being that Nylander didn’t face the toughest Hurricanes competition during much of the contest, but you’d be grasping at straws.

In other words, there’s already a lot to like about Nylander three games into his latest season, even if there are signs of growing pains. He could be a boon to the Maple Leafs in his current form, and chances are, he’ll get up to game speed and shake off all the rust, possibly quite soon.

Long story short, Nylander’s showing that he’s worth the wait.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Penguins heavy NHL odds favorite against beleaguered Blackhawks on Wednesday

Leave a comment

It is rare for a road team in the NHL to go as deep into minus money as the Pittsburgh Penguins are for their game against the reeling Chicago Blackhawks (8 p.m ET; NBCSN), meaning a trend could be shrugged off due to small sample size.

The Penguins are -195 road favorites on the NHL odds for Wednesday night with the host Blackhawks coming back at +155, while there is a 6.0-goals total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The Penguins are only 1-5 in their last six road games as a favorite of -190 or greater on the moneyline, as well as 3-7 in their last 10 road games, but are 4-1 in five road games this season against Western Conference teams.

The Blackhawks’ trends are even more abject; they have surrendered the first goal in 11 consecutive games and are also 2-6 in their last eight home games at the United Center. Chicago also played Tuesday night, losing 6-3 against the Winnipeg Jets, and is 4-16 in its last 20 games when it played the previous day.

Pittsburgh is 13-10-6 on the season, including a 6-2-2 mark over its last 10 games. The Penguins are well off of their Stanley Cup form of two seasons ago, but still have a strong first two lines centered by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Both Pittsburgh special teams units are in the top 10 of the NHL, with the power play ranking ninth (23.2 percent) and the penalty killing unit ranking sixth (83.5).

With No. 1 goalie Matt Murray (lower body) close to a return to health, the Penguins could have a choice between him and Casey DeSmith, who is 3-1-1 with a 2.16 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in five starts so far in December.

Chicago is 9-18-5, including 1-9 in its last 10 games, and there is little to suggest much in the way of an immediate turnaround. Captain Jonathan Toews‘ line is one of the least proficient first lines in the NHL and the next waves of attack, which include right wing Patrick Kane, have been just ok, which is why the Blackhawks have not scored more than three goals during any of their last eight home games.

The Blackhawks are also 31st, or dead last, in power play efficiency (11.6 percent) and 28th in penalty killing (74.4 percent).

Cam Ward played in the Winnipeg game, which would suggest the Blackhawks will start goalie Corey Crawford, who is winless in his last eight starts. Crawford is 5-14-1 with a 3.21 goals-against average and .901 save percentage, but his rate stats improve to 2.39 and .925 on home ice, which might provide a glimmer of hope for upset-minded bettors.

The total has gone UNDER in six of Pittsburgh’s last 10 road games against the Central Division, according to the OddsShark NHL Database. The total has gone UNDER in eight of Chicago’s last 10 home games.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Rangers’ Shattenkirk out 2-4 weeks with shoulder injury

Getty Images
1 Comment

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Rangers say defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk will be sidelined two to four weeks with a shoulder injury.

Shattenkirk left in the second period of Monday night’s game in Tampa. He took a check around the left shoulder and had a sling on his arm postgame.

The 29-year-old was checked out on Tuesday. General manager Jeff Gorton announced Wednesday that Shattenkirk had a separated shoulder.

Shattenkirk has one goal, seven assists and zero penalty minutes in 29 games this season. He suffered a knee injury last January that ended his season.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Bruins’ David Backes takes skate to face, returns

1 Comment

BOSTON (AP) Boston Bruins forward David Backes rushed himself off the ice Tuesday night after taking a skate blade to the face late in the first period but returned at the start of the second and finished the game.

Backes pushed Oliver Ekman-Larsson near the side of the net and the Arizona defenseman went to the ice, kicking up his left skate on the way down. It caught Backes in the face, and he went down before skating on his own quickly to the bench and out the tunnel.

Backes returned and won the faceoff to start the second period. He did not speak to reporters during the open locker room period but told The Boston Globe as he left the building he had a cut on the side of his nose that required a few stitches and some ointment.

“It’s always scary when your teammate takes a skate to the face, or really anywhere,” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said after scoring twice and adding an assist in the 4-3 victory. “He’s a little prettier now and no worse for wear.”

Backes required 18 stitches to close a cut on his leg after a game against Tampa Bay in March.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports