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26 March 2009

Breaking It Down

So, I have been watching NHL statistics, like always, and something caught my eye. I looked at a lot of things this time and came to several conclusions...one is that stats don't really matter come playoff time and another is that if a team changes style and/or coaching, that team inherits the statistics from the previous administration. Of course, you probably figured out that is the Penguins circumstances right now.
I took the teams that are most likely able to make the playoffs or that are already a lock in the Eastern Conference and evaluated them. I am going to compare individual team statistics from the Penguins to the teams they could face sometime in the playoffs to see where we stand. I also have a graphic so you can see all the actual stats at the bottom of this article.

My first look was at the hits, which is usually my favorite statistic, and I was surprised at how we compare to other teams as well as past Penguin teams. There is only one team that tops our 2051 hits thus far this season and they are, surprisingly, the New York Rangers with 2131. The top four "powerhouses" are not even within 600 hits of the Penguins. I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. It can be looked at either way. I mean, if we are the aggressor in the playoffs, it will knock the other team off of their game and frustrate them. They will feel they have to match us hit for hit to beat us, which they won't be able to. You can also look at it in the respect that they all have better records than us at this point in time. I think that is weak, though, because there are so many aspects to a game you can scrutinize. If you compare this year's hit count to the Penguins of the last two year's, we are way more aggressive than in the past. For instance, 2006-07 we had a total of 1472, and last year we had 1671. They were both from all 82 games. Take that however you want.

The next stat I looked at is really, in my opinion, an art form. You have to master blocked shots so you can get the timing down and avoid injury. You also stand to help out your goalie a ton if the shots your opponent is taking isn't getting through. A bad point about having a high number of blocked shots is that it means the opponent had control of the puck alot and was open enough to take a crack at scoring. Once again, there is only one team in the top nine that has more than our 1211. Take into consideration something I said earlier, though, we changed coaches and styles, so we are a different team now. The Montreal Canadians are the only team with more blocks than us at 1259. The top three hover around 1000 and Philadelphia is not far behind us with 1186. We are pretty much on the same tract as the 2006-07 and the 2007-08 totals of 1215 and 1268 respectively.

The next two categories go hand in hand, but in my opinion, doesn't factor in as much as it should in respect to overall records. These two categories are giveaways, takeaways and their combined differences as well as goal differential. If common sense tells us that if you have more giveaways than takeaways that you would have more goals allowed than most teams. It also should tell us that if it is the other way around, it would show just the opposite. I will tell you neither is an absolute or even a remote science because of one variable involved in this. The goaltender. We are a +13 in goal differential, but a -137 in giveaway/takeaway differential (GTD). I think this is a better measuring stick to the quality of a goaltender than most other statistics. If we give it up that much and are still a +13 overall, I consider Fleury a success. Boston is a +72 in goal differential and a +8 in GTD. That says that Thomas is good, but not incredible at this point. He is doing what is necessary to win. New Jersey is a +44 in goal differential, but an amazing +204 in GTD. That shows to me that the goalie isn't great, but look who is between the pipes. Ok, so Brodeur wasn't there all season and Clemmenson is now in the minors, so what. The next thought I have is a poor offense, but their offense is on par with everyone else. Washington is a +21 and an incredible -256 in GTD. That shows someone incredible in between the pipes. I know Theodore isn't known for this at this point in time, but maybe we need to look at him a bit closer considering how much his team, specifically Ovechkin with his league leading 100 giveaways, leaves him out to dry so often. Our possible first round opponent, the Philadelphia Flyers are +27 to a GTD of -139. They are almost our equals here with Biron in net. You may be wondering at this point how we measured up against the last two Penguin playoff teams, well, we were a +31 in goal differential both years, but were a -190 in GTD in 2006-07 and a better -68 in 2007-08. So we fall in the middle this year. The only difference is that Fleury's numbers have changed. In 2006-07 he had a save percentage of .906 and a goals against average of 2.83. In 2007-08, a save percentage of .921 and a goals against average of 2.33 was achieved. Remember that this year he only played half of the games. He seems to play significantly better in the second halves. This year, he has a save percentage of .913 and a goal against average of 2.67. So, as we can see, as Fleury goes, so does this team. I think we need to appreciate him a lot more.

Like I said in the beginning of this piece, it really isn't the stats that tell the tale, it is the way a team is playing at the end of the season. Are they making more mistakes than not? Are they having fun? Are they excelling in their "system"? Are they winning? If the answers are yes to all of these, then you deserve to be in the playoffs.

Let's Go Pens!

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