As the NHL has worked to make the league more competitive, debate has begun over whether or not home-ice advantage truly matters in the playoffs. Things like the salary cap may have evened out the league enough that home ice has less of an impact on the team’s chances of winning. So how important is it, exactly, that the Pittsburgh Penguins managed to retain their position over the Columbus Blue Jackets and secure home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs?
The Penguins’ History
The Penguins have played a total of 344 playoff games since 1970. In that time, they’ve won 50-percent of their games on enemy ice. When on home ice, however, the Penguins have a clear advantage. They win home playoff games 58-percent of the time.
This home-ice advantage was especially apparent in the Penguins’ successful 2016 playoff run. In the 2016 playoffs, the Penguins won almost 80-percent of their games when playing on at home as opposed to a 58-percent success rate when playing in different venues. Different teams have varying rates of success when on home ice, but the Penguins’ preference for playing at their own arena — especially for this specific iteration of the team — is clear. Sometimes, the pressure of the home crowd can be too much. For example, last year the Penguins were unable to clinch the Stanley Cup win in Pittsburgh when they had the chance, instead winning it in front of an opponent’s home crowd. Overall, however, there is a positive correlation between the Penguins playing at home during the playoffs and the Penguins winning these crucial match-ups.
A Telling Statistic
What this means is that the Penguins need to win their games at home in the first round. Last year, they won 80-percent of their playoff home games. How they do at home in this first round against the Blue Jackets will be a telling indicator as to what their playoff run is going to look like. If the Penguins drop a few of these first games at home, that is definitely cause for fans to worry.
For the Penguins, however, hope springs eternal. The Blue Jackets have started to wilt in this last stretch of the regular season, dropping their last six games straight (and losing eight out of their last 10). Facing a faltering team, and with home ice that last year proved to be hugely beneficial for them, the Penguins hold hope of making it through the first round of playoffs. They face the significant challenge of putting a team on the ice that hasn’t been fully healthy for months, which means line shakeups at the very beginning of the playoffs. For instance, Evgeni Malkin and Olli Maatta haven’t played with the team in weeks and will need to be rotated back into the lineup.
The Penguins’ historical preference for home ice, especially evident in their last playoff run, means it will be important to watch their success rate in these first few playoff games at PPG Paints Arena. If their struggles to create a cohesive lineup outweigh their historic advantage on home ice, then the Penguins may have reasons to be concerned for their future in the playoffs.
Julia Stumbaugh is a student at the College of William & Mary.