The Penguins’ success can’t be modeled

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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.

Ovechkin, and Ovi Jr., take the ice at All-Star skills night

ovechkin all star
Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports
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SUNRISE, Fla. — When you’ve got the second-most goals in NHL history, you’re evidently permitted to bring a guest onto the ice for the All-Star Skills competition.

That’s why there were two No. 8 Washington jerseys out there Friday night.

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin took the ice with his Metropolitan Division teammates – and his oldest child, 4-year-old Sergei.

Sergei, named for Ovechkin’s late brother, was wearing an Ovi Jr. jersey. The kid has built a bit of a following in recent weeks, after scoring a goal at a Caps practice in December and playing a role in helping the Washington crowd celebrate his dad’s 800th goal.

It was Ovi Jr.’s first chance at being part of an All-Star weekend. His father hasn’t participated at All-Star since 2018, either because of COVID-19 or injuries. The last time his dad played in an All-Star event, Sergei hadn’t been born.

Alex Ovechkin has 812 goals. He only trails Wayne Gretzky’s 894 in NHL history.

And later in the night, Ovi Jr. got to center a line alongside his dad and Pittsburgh great Sidney Crosby. They each got an assist on a goal that Sergei scored – beating Roberto Luongo, the Florida great who came out of retirement for All-Star weekend.

Said Ovechkin after his son scored: “I think he’s really enjoying it.”

WELCOME HOME, LU

Luongo got to be part of one more All-Star competition.

In a building where a banner bearing his No. 1 jersey hangs – he’s the only former Panthers player to have that distinction – Luongo was a celebrity goaltender during the Breakaway Challenge during the Skills Competition on Friday night.

He stopped his lone shot in the breakaway, off the stick of Toronto’s Mitch Marner. On one hand, Marner is the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer this season. On the other hand, he was also wearing a white suit, sunglasses and a light blue T-shirt to keep with a “Miami Vice” theme.

Luongo was up to the challenge. Marner tried to beat him to the glove side, but Luongo got enough of it to make the save – then flopped forward to cover up the rebound, the smile clearly seen through his mask.

“You got too close,” Luongo told Marner.

Later, Luongo told ESPN during the telecast of the event that “this is my house. This is my home right here. The crease is my home.”

Luongo’s pads paid tribute to his career – the design paid tribute to his time both as a member of the Panthers and the Vancouver Canucks.

He also took part, and scored a goal, in a Florida alumni game on Wednesday night.

REMEMBERING JIMMY

Sergei Ovechkin – who knocked a shot into an open net during a stoppage of the skills events – wasn’t the only child who got a great view of the night.

Philadelphia forward Kevin Hayes has his 3-year-old nephew Beau with him for All-Star weekend. Beau’s father was Jimmy Hayes, Kevin Hayes’ brother.

Jimmy Hayes was 31 when he died in 2021 with fentanyl and cocaine in his system. He played for four NHL teams, including Florida.

Kevin Hayes is part of an All-Star weekend for the first time.

ANTHEM POISE

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by the South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus, and group crushed it – never minding that the crowd, representing several different fan bases, was going to shout some term specific to their team at various points in the lyrics.

Florida fans shout along with “red” and “Knight,” one a nod to one of the team’s primary colors, the other for goaltender Spencer Knight. There also were some shouts from other fan bases; some St. Louis fans, for example, could be heard singing “home of the Blues” instead of “home of the brave” to close the song.

And “O Canada” performer Hannah Walpole had some shouting as she sang as well, particularly when she reached the “true North” portion of those lyrics – something typically heard at Winnipeg games.

SLAP SHOTS

Cale Makar, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, was the first participant in the Fastest Skater event – the opening competition of the night. He fell coming around the second turn. … Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon, one of the broadcasters on the event, reported that he was “freezing” by working at ice level. “I’m used to the gear,” said Maroon, who was in a blazer and open shirt Friday night. … A big hit for those used to the regular colors of FLA Live Arena – and basically all other hockey arenas – was the ocean-water-shade of blue used for the blue lines and the creases. The faceoff dots at the circles on either end of the ice aren’t the standard solid red this weekend, but depict an image of the sun instead.

Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

“Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

mark stone surgery
Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
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LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.