Two week roundup is a season long look at the Penguins performance over the previous two week period. It will highlight what the team is doing right and what they are doing wrong. It will track individual and team performance for that period and for the season to that point.
Overall Record – 35-21-1 / Last two weeks - 5-2-0
- Overview -
As the Olympic break approaches and with the playoffs right around the corner, the Pittsburgh Penguins seem to be hitting their stride at just the right time. Despite a couple of ugly losses to Washington and Ottawa, the Pens look to be playing their best hockey in months. The power play is clicking again, the two headed monster is ravaging the countryside, and they are finding ways to win the close games. And that last point may be the most important because winning tight games is the only way to survive the most grueling playoff battle in all of sports. The Pens were able to hold off a surging Flyers team and an always formidable Red wings squad with 2-1 victories. They kept up with the Rangers before breaking the deadlock in the third period. And they topped it off with an awesome comeback victory against the surprisingly tough Buffalo Sabres.
- Team Stats -
The rest of the NHL better look out because the Penguins power play is alive and thriving once again. The Pens went an incredible 8 for 27 on the power play over the last two weeks for a 29.6% success rate. That is nearly a goal every three opportunities and considering the Pens lead the league in PP opportunities and average four power plays per game, that could add up to a lot of goals. For the season, the Pens PP up to 16.3% and are finally out of the basement and up to 26th in the league.
Naturally, when the PP finally comes to life, the PK looks like it has fallen into a coma. The Penguins killed off 26 of 31 penalties for an 83.9% success rate. Still fairly good by league standards, but that is way down from what the Pens had been doing thus far this season. Also, that moves them down to 82.8% for the season, and 12th in the NHL. Now don’t misunderstand, the Penguins still have one of the best penalty kills in the NHL and there is nothing really wrong with it. In a penalty filled game against the Flyers, the Pens successfully killed off eight of the nine PP opportunities the Flyers had. It looks like it has just hit a little slump and in time, it will get back to dominating the way they are used to.
When it comes to out shooting the opponent, the Penguins have a strange little habit. In the last two weeks, with the exception of the Detroit game, every time the Pens out shot the other team, they lost, and every time they were out shot, they one. Not sure if that means anything, but those are the facts. Over these seven games, the Penguins are averaging 32.3 shots/game and the opponents averaged 30.4 shots/game. That is a little better then they had been doing recently, but that stat is helped, a lot, by the 47-24 shot difference in the Red Wings game. The Penguins are still 4th in the league in shots/game, but have dropped all the way to 9th in shots against/game. Still really good, but the Pens need to control how many shots they give up each game.
You would think that if the Penguins are giving up more shots on goal, it is because they are not effectively blocking shots anymore. But you would be wrong. The Pens averaged 14.6 blocked shots per game over the last two weeks and are currently 5th in the NHL with 863 for the season. This is right where they have been for a couple of months now. What makes this such an effective part of the Penguins game is that everyone chips in. Early in the season it seemed that Mike Rupp was doing all of the shot blocking, but now several different players are each getting 2-3 blocked shots a game.
Now that the power play is back in action, face-offs are now the sore thumb in the Penguins game. They won 46.5% of the face-offs over the last seven games and overall, they are back down to 21st in the league at 48.9%. One big reason for the drop were a pitiful showings against the Red Wings, where the Pens won only 33% of the face-offs, and the Flyers, where they one only 39%. Incredibly, the Pens won both of those games, but in the playoffs, face-offs are one of the most important factors in winning and I doubt they would be so lucky with numbers like that. . Even Sidney Crosby has cooled down somewhat at the face-off dot. But on the bright side, Jordan Staal has the other guy for face-offs and he has slowly gotten better as the season has progressed. His numbers are still up and down, but he did win 76& of his draws in the Islanders game.
The Penguins continue to quietly be one of the hardest hitting teams in the NHL. With a lineup full of flashy goal scorers, the Pens are currently 3rd in the NHL with 26.6 hits per game. And those numbers are even higher recently. Over the last two weeks, the Pens have been averaging 31.6 hits/game. If the Penguins can keep this under their hat, they may surprise a lot of teams come playoff time with their physical play. And there is nothing better then transitioning from physical defensive play to offensive talent.
____________________The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly____________________
* Baby Pens– Because of continued injuries in the Penguins lineup, there have been numerous sighting of Baby Pens in the NHL recently. They have all been effective and deserved their time with the big club, but the three most recent visitors, Nick Johnson, Chris Conner, and Mark Letestu, have definitely made their presence known. Johnson has a goal and an assist, Conner had two goals against the Rangers, and Letestu had a nice redirection against the Sabres. But more then the numbers, they are noticeable on the ice and doing a lot of the little things that don’t show up on the stat sheet, but win games.
* The Two-Headed Monster – Whatever happened that finally released the two-headed monster from its cage; it is back and apparently hungry. Over the last seven games, Sidney Crosby had 7 goals and 7 assists including a hat trick against the Sabres and a six point night against the Islanders. After a painfully long scoring drought, Evgeni Malkin has emerged as strong as ever with 5 goals and 8 assists in the last seven games including a hat trick against the Islanders and at least one point in each of the last seven games.
* The Power Play – In an amazing worst to first recovery, the Penguins power play, which looked like it had been left for dead in early January, has emerged and is firing on all cylinders. A 30% success rate over the last seven games, which includes a 4 for 7 performance against the Islanders and a 2 for 6 performance against the Flyers, is amazing. Add to that four power play goals by Geno and the PP is dangerous once again. No matter what the overall number looks like, what matters is that the PP is scoring now and if that keeps up for the playoffs, the Penguins will be difficult to defeat again
* Injuries – Every team has to deal with injuries over the season, and the Pens have has their share. Right now, the only long term injury is Chris Kunitz, but Max Talbot, Alex Gologoski, and Eric Goddard have also missed games recently. And while some strong play from the Baby Pens has helped, the chemistry that is lost by continually losing some of the key third and fourth line players can be troublesome. And when the playoffs finally get here, one of those intangibles that get teams over the top and on to victory is the chemistry they have built over the season. Hopefully the Pens will be able to maintain theirs.
* Face-offs – One of those stats that is not as noticeable right away, but is crucial to winning is face-off success. The Penguins face-offs have been mediocre at best all season, but Crosby has been carrying the rest of the team and making up for that. But now, when Sid’s numbers dip a little, the deficiencies at the dot becomes even more apparent. If the Penguins want to have a chance of winning another Stanley Cup, they must improve in this aspect of the game. They can’t rely only on Crosby. Jordan Staal seems to be taking the challenge, but still needs to work on it.
* Penalties – While the penalty kill was shutting down everything is saw, all of the penalties the Penguins were taking didn’t seem that bad. But now that the PK has leveled a little, all of the penalties are becoming a problem. The Penguins are giving up nearly seven power play opportunities per game this season and gave up close to six per game over the last seven. Not only does that give the other team an obvious advantage, but it limits the amount of time the Pens can spend on the attack and this offensive juggernaut is no good if it is not attacking and getting scoring opportunities.
#3 – Sergei Gonchar – 1G, on the PP, and 5A in the last seven games and 7 blocked shots against the Rangers. Gonch is in full control of the blue line
#2 – Evgeni Malkin – 5G, 4 on the PP, and 8A in the lat seven games including a hat trick. There was a lot of questioning about Geno recently, but he has shut them all up.
#1 – Sidney Crosby – 7G, one on the PP, and 7A in last seven games including a hat trick and a six point game. Sup87man.
Chris Kunitz will be out 4-6 weeks with a torn abdominal muscle. He had successful surgery to repair, but the recovery time will keep him out until at least mid February. Reports have him possibly returning against Montreal on Saturday.
Eric Goddard is out until at least March with a groin injury.
* Jordan Staal didn’t have great numbers, but he is one of the best players on the ice every game.
* Brent Johnson continued to be solid while Fleury was out.
* Fedotenko had 5 assists in seven games and has been playing outstanding hockey recently.
Just five games left until the Olympic break.
- 2/6 – @ Montreal Canadiens
- 2/7 – @ Washington Capitals
- 2/10 – vs. New York Islanders
- 2/12 – vs. New York Rangers
- 2/14 – vs. Nashville Predators