Scouting Penguins – Blue Jackets
For those who weigh playoff projections from advanced stats as the biggest barometer in predicting how each playoff series will go, last year when the Penguins entered the post-season all of the underlying numbers/models pegged the Penguins as the Stanley Cup favorite and they were a case where the advanced stats crowd had their day in the sun with the Penguins hoisting Lord Stanley in June.
Now it’s a bit of a reversal for the Penguins.
The eye test says they are one of the top Stanley Cup favorites, while the numbers tell a different story.
Injuries are certainly a factor but the Penguins numbers are nowhere near the levels they were going into last post-season.
While finishing with the second best record in the NHL, in 2015-2016 the Penguins ranked 1st in Corsi % going into the playoffs. This season they rank 2nd in points again in the NHL but are not among the top-10 playoff teams in driving possession.
Over the last 25 games, the Penguins have been middle of the pack and are 15th in Corsi %.
Unlike last year when they were also the President Trophy winners, the numbers/models favor the Capitals in the East this season.
The Capitals are 3rd among playoff teams in SAT 5v5 close% and over the last 25 games have been the second best team in driving possession. The best team in driving possession in the East is the Boston Bruins who some see as a dark horse in the East.
But, is having average possession numbers like the Penguins have had over the last couple months overrated come playoff time when you have one of the NHL’s fastest teams like the Penguins do?
Some old school scouts believe so.
One scout this week told me the Penguins skate so well in hunting the puck and tracking the puck carrier that out-attempting the Penguins isn’t a big deal and won’t be a big deal in this series because the Penguins speed can still dictate the play in all three zones when they don’t have the puck and offensively they create so many high danger chances because of their speed and skill.
Columbus has been the better 5 on 5 team vs the Penguins this season and enter the playoffs with the 7th best SAT 5v5 close% among playoff teams. In the recent contest between the two clubs, Columbus out-shot Pittsburgh 39-27 and had a 60-30 edge in 5v5 shot attempts. Yet, the Penguins speed game limited the high danger chances against and kept the Blue Jackets to the outside.
If the Blue Jackets out-attempt the Penguins in the series, it might not end up being a big deal at all like some will surely try to make it out to be.
Blue Jackets must answer the Penguins advantage down the middle
Many believe this series will be won by the Penguins due to their strength down the middle and that’s understandable. Sidney Crosby – Evgeni Malkin – Nick Bonino – Matt Cullen > Alexander Wennberg – Brandon Dubinsky – Boone Jenner – William Karlsson.
How do the Blue Jackets combat the Penguins strength down the middle?
“Saad, Atkinson, and Foligno have to be special,” an Eastern Conference scout said. Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"