Thursday, January 12, 2012
Don't stress: The Pens should be fine
The Pens have lost six games in a row and have fallen to 9th place in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Fans and media are wondering if the wheels have fallen off, and some sports show callers are even calling for Dan Bylsma's head. I'm here to tell everyone to take a deep breath. It's a losing streak. They happen. The Capitals lost 8 games in a row last season and still managed to finish 1st in the conference with 107 points. The 2008-2009 edition of the Pens slumped well into February, and that season ended with them hoisting the Cup. Here's why we shouldn't worry just yet:
1) The Pens are still out-shooting their opponents. In fact, the Pens have out-shot their opponents for the last six games, all losses. Goals are determined by two things: how many shots you take, and your shooting percentage. Team shooting percentage is pretty fluky. A team can have a good percentage one year and a bad percentage the next. I suspect it may be due to chance more than anything else. The Pens are still getting a lot of shots on goal, and that's important. Their team shooting percentage is 8.5% for the year. During the streak? An unreasonably low 3.1%. The Pens have run into bad luck and hot goaltending. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 37/38, and Martin Brodeur stopped 41/42. Eventually, the shots will go in.
2) When you account for empty net goals, three of the losses were 1 goal losses. These are close games against good (and hot) teams. The Pens are just losing them. They'll even out in the end.
Things to consider:
1) Injuries. Obviously we miss Sid and Jordan Staal. We really miss Kris Letang. He was playing some great hockey before suffering a concussion. The folks at www.hockey-reference.com can estimate how many points a player contributes to his team in the standings. Letang is 2nd among NHL defensemen in Point Shares per/game, right behind Shea Weber. He's an extremely valuable player.
2) It may be time to split up the Neal-Malkin-Kunitz line. With 2 of our top 3 centers out of action for a while, it might be better to spread out the scoring talent. Teams are sending out their top D pairing and top defensive forwards against the Malkin line. We need the other lines to be more of a threat. Look for Tyler Kennedy to start scoring more goals. I'd like to see him with Malkin and Neal, but I'll leave the lines up to Bylsma.
Bottom line: Things haven't gone well lately, but that's not because the Pens are a bad team. Things will start turning around, and hopefully, the injured guys will be back soon.