In the aftermath of the numerous trials and tribulations introduced to the NHL and the world at large in 2021, the new year of 2022 represents an opportunity for renewal, revitalization, and improvement. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ record of 17-8-5 is enough to claim the first of two Eastern Conference wild-card spots, an impressive feat considering the lengthy absence of their beloved Russian centreman, Evgeni Malkin. With that, here are three noteworthy statistical trends that look set to define 2022 for the Penguins.
Ice-Cold Power Play Hurting Penguins
To some extent, Pittsburgh’s spotty power-play conversion is understandable. Their offensive talisman in Sidney Crosby missed the start of the season and Malkin has yet to make an appearance in 2021-22, making it difficult to establish any consistency on the team’s top unit.
Although their overall efficiency is down significantly at 15.3% (28th in the NHL), Pittsburgh’s underlying numbers indicate that it’s more of a function of unluckiness rather than incompetence. The Penguins generate a great deal of shot attempts (sixth in per-60 production) and quality looks (fourth in expected goals for per-60) with the man-advantage, but their finishing hasn’t matched the process.
They rank 31st out of 32 teams in power-play shooting percentage (SH%) and are only outdone by the woeful Montreal Canadiens. It’s difficult to imagine a team bursting at the seams with offensive skill managing to continue such a frustrating dry spell, meaning that they should see an uptick in results soon enough.
While preaching patience and keeping faith in the process, the Penguins must figure it out soon, seeing as running an effective power play is one of the key determinants to post-season success. The NHL’s five previous Stanley Cup winners finished the regular season with a power play ranked within the top 10 in efficiency, including the second of Pittsburgh’s recent back-to-back conquests.
|Team||Power-Play Efficiency (%)||NHL Rank|
|Tampa Bay Lightning (2020-21)||22.2||9|
|Tampa Bay Lightning (2019-20)||23.2||5|
|St. Louis Blues (2018-19)||21.1||10|
|Washington Capitals (2017-18)||22.5||7|
|Pittsburgh Penguins (2016-17)||23.1||3|
With more than half of the season still remaining and Malkin returning to play soon, Pittsburgh is not yet in dire straits. Keep an eye on this space, however, as management could see their hand forced by any continued struggles.
Disciplined Penguins Avoiding Penalty Calls
The reality of post-season officiating means that special teams are less of a factor in the playoffs than they are in the regular season but it’s unwise to place unneeded stress on a team’s key workhorses if possible.
Luckily, the Penguins are a disciplined group and have avoided the consternation of the referees thus far. Pittsburgh is being assessed the fewest penalty minutes per game in the league this season (6.8) and has faced the third-fewest power-play opportunities as a result.
Even if they were being whistled for a greater number of calls, their penalty kill currently leads the NHL in efficiency, eliminating 92.1% of opposing opportunities with the man-advantage. Pittsburgh isn’t simply relying on the excellence of Tristan Jarry in goal either, as they rank third in scoring chances against per-60 when down a man. A strong penalty kill doesn’t guarantee a shot at the Cup but it’s comforting for coaches to be able to trust their troops in a tight situation.
Penguins Turning into Strong Possession Team
Hockey is a game of luck, with the movement of the small, slippery disk known as a puck being about as predictable as the weekly lottery numbers.
To reduce the impact of luck on the run of play, teams can work to control a majority of shots, scoring chances, and the overall quality of offensive opportunities. This means that over the long term, a net-positive team should experience more favourable results given that they create more chances to score than the opposition.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Penguins find themselves within the NHL’s top six in terms of their five-on-five share of shot attempts (fifth), scoring chances (sixth), and expected goals (fourth). Now, creating the opportunities only takes you so far and finishing ability plays a significant part in capitalizing on those chances. Still, when given the choice between creating more or less offense than one’s opponent, the logic is made clear.
Pittsburgh is therefore in great shape, controlling play at the level of the league’s top teams, even without the contributions of Malkin. When that fact is coupled with the strength of their penalty kill and Jarry’s resurgence in goal, the Penguins make for a formidable first-round opponent in the playoffs.
What does 2022 Have in Store for the Penguins?
For the Pittsburgh Penguins, the back-half of the 2021-22 NHL season could be the organization’s final hurrah with their entrenched core of Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, and Evgeni Malkin. As a result, it’s crucial that they do everything in their power to ensure the trio of franchise icons another chance at the Stanley Cup. While the signs of success are there, the Penguins still have some warts to iron out if they are to capture the fourth title of the Crosby era. Do they have what it takes to put an emphatic stamp on this quasi-dynasty?
Marko is an aspiring sportswriter with a passion for crafting stories while using a combination of the eye-test and (shudder) analytics, which is complemented by an academic background in criminology and political science.
When not covering the Colorado Avalanche and Pittsburgh Penguins for The Hockey Writers, he can also be found pouring countless hours into various sports video games franchises, indulging in science fiction novels, and taking long runs around his neighbourhood.