Hockey works in a lot of different ways. Last week, the Maple Leafs may have sandwiched their worst game of the season with two of their best. One of the best-kept secrets in hockey is that momentum is mostly illusory. Humans are wired to look for patterns, and take mental leaps to separate processes from results as long as it lines up with a predetermined conclusion with narrative support.
It’s hard to predict what happens in hockey when it comes to results, and commentators have tried for years to look at recency, games in the past week, recent games between the same opponents, in an effort to better predict or explain what happens in advance. Most of it is hocus pocus, and a good post at Arctic Ice Hockey summarized this today. No matter what you’re told tonight, the result of the last Penguins and Maple Leafs game will have no bearing on what happens tonight.
The second best-kept secret in hockey is that the Pittsburgh Penguins are actually not a very good team.
|Corsi Close %||52.0% (8th)||43.0% (29th)|
|5v5 GF/60||2.34 (10th)||2.19 (15th)|
|5v5 GA/60||1.98 (8th)||2.16 (15th)|
|PDO||100.0 (17th)||102.3 (2nd)|
|5v4 GF/60||10.30 (2nd)||8.25 (5th)|
|5v4 SF/60||63.2 (3rd)||56.4 (7th)|
|4v5 GA/60||3.73 (3rd)||7.18 (24th)|
|4v5 SA/60||57.1 (22nd)||61.7 (26th)|
|Penalty Differential||+18 (2nd)||-22 (30th)|
Over the last two seasons (adding data via ExtraSkater), the Pittsburgh Penguins have had a 47.6% Corsi Close rate without Sidney Crosby on the ice, but 55.4% when he’s on. That’s a huge gap, and a little bigger than you might expect from a team “missing” its best player. What’s especially amazing is that Crosby doesn’t get favourable offensive usage: that falls on Evgeni Malkin. Crosby has had a lower than 50% offensive zone start rate, meaning he starts more shifts in the defensive end than the offensive end, for each of the last two years.
Basically, he’s incredible, and though the Penguins are without Malkin and James Neal tonight that should mostly be a powerplay issue. At even strength, a lot of the Penguins problems could be solved if they tried to find better depth players than what they have. When you see their lineup you won’t be too surprised that Pittsburgh turns from an elite team to a real middling team when Crosby goes from on the ice to off of it.
The other key to Pittsburgh’s success? How about Marc-Andre Fleury. I know it sounds weird, but his .934 shorthanded save percentage is both a) unsustainably high, but more importantly b) keeping the Penguins PK from not being awful. I think the Leafs should have the special teams advantage with the Penguins PP missing some key personnel.
MAPLE LEAFS LINEUP
James van Riemsdyk – Nazem Kadri – Phil Kessel
Mason Raymond – Peter Holland – Joffrey Lupul
Jerry D’Amigo – Jay McClement – Nik Kulemin
Frazer McLaren – Trevor Smith – Troy Bodie
Carl Gunnarsson – Dion Phaneuf
Jake Gardiner – Cody Franson
Morgan Rielly – John-Michael Liles
I like how the second lines are going to match up. When the Leafs signed Jerred Smithson, I wasn’t too impressed, suggesting they needed to trade for a low-cost somebody with talent like Holland (I didn’t mention him explicitly, but suggested there are a lot of talented players not getting NHL minutes that may be available) because of an offensive ceiling.
Now, we can’t expect him to keep up this current offensive production (the Leafs shooting percentage when he’s on the ice is 10.84% and it’s rare to see players sustain over 10%) but he leads the team in 5-on-5 goals per 60 minutes and is second in points. He’s the perfect third line centreman.
Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Pascal Dupuis
Harry Zolnierczyk – Jussi Jokinen – Jayson Megna
Chris Conner – Brandon Sutter – Joe Vitale
Craig Adams – Zach Sill – Chuck Kobasew
Olli Maatta – Matt Niskanen
Brian Dumoulin – Robert Bortuzzo
Phillip Samuelsson – Simons Despres
I’m a pretty avid follower of hockey, but can assure you this is the first I’m hearing of two of those Penguins forwards and one of those defencemen. Brian Dumoulin, the second piece in the Jordan Staal trade, makes his second NHL game after an 18-minute, 22% Corsi debut against Detroit on Saturday. That will probably turn around.
The first line is still great, but this may be the first time all year the Leafs go into a game where the combinations of units 2, 3 and 4 are better than the opposition’s.
(and a paragraph as useful as most goalie statistics)
Jonathan Bernier and Marc-Andre Fleury. I think a lot of people are getting too carried away with Randy Carlyle’s handling of the goaltenders. It’s one thing he’s done very well in his career. He’s never seemed to have bad goaltending, either starter or backup, and never relies too much on one guy. Starting James Reimer because Jon Bernier had a rough week, or because of Reimer’s good career games against Pittsburgh, is just mis-stating what a coach can and can’t affect from his goaltenders. There may be a fatigue issue, or an injury issue, with Reimer that won’t keep him out of the lineup but makes him a little less than 100%. Or maybe not. Whatever. The Leafs have two good goalies and neither of them is going to be the wrong call on any one night.
The Leafs and the Penguins get underway at 7 Eastern on Sportsnet Ontario or if you’re feeling particularly saucy, RDS.