How do the Penguins Stack up to the Rangers?

Published on April 15th, 2015
Can the Penguins avenge last year's loss? (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Can the Penguins avenge last year’s loss? (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

By: Jim Meinecke

Joe Guzy did a great job at highlighting some reasons the Penguins can indeed avenge last year’s defeat to the Rangers in these 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs with a nice focus on Marc-Andre Fleury and Henrik Lundqvist: Why Not the Pittsburgh Penguins? I was interested in breaking down these teams line for line and defenseman for defenseman. I looked at the data from the beginning of March, when all trades were made, until now. A little background before we get started. I took the projected starting lines for game 1 when doing these projections. Additionally, the data is as is for March and April. That means some of the players were not very impressive simply because they did not play as much (examples: Evgeni Malkin or Martin St. Louis). Also, the team totals will be seen at the bottom of each table, but the Rangers outscored the Penguins by almost 40 points between March and April. The Rangers put up 101 team points in March to the Penguins 90, and the Rangers put up 58 points in April to the Penguins 32. I also detailed how each line and player contributed to the team’s overall point totals over the past two months. Now, onward!


1st Lines

1st Lines

The first line shows some promise for the Penguins. The Penguins first line outscored the Rangers the past two months 44 points to 37 points. In fact, they were better in every statistical category. Daniel Winnik is low man on the totem pole for the Penguins, but let’s not forget that he spent over half of his time with the Penguins on the third line, so his production is not as bad as people would think. The biggest thing to note here? The first line for the Penguins accounted for a little over 36% of the team’s total offense the past two months. The Rangers first line only accounted for a little over 23% of the team’s total offense. That is why this is good and bad news for the Penguins. Yes, the first line outplayed the Rangers first line, but man is this Penguins’ team top heavy. Conversely, the Rangers are so balanced, which will be apparent as we go forward.

2nd Lines

2nd Lines

Here is where things already start to get ugly for the Penguins. Chris Kunitz accounted for only 2.46% of the team’s production the past two months. This just drives home the fact that he has not produced anywhere near where he needs to as a top-six forward. David Perron is pretty close to J.T. Miller’s production, so he has not been as cold as folks may think. Is he producing like he did when he first signed with the Penguins? No, but his production is not too far off from where the Penguins need him to be. Evgeni Malkin still managed 7.38% of the team’s production even with missing eight games in March and April. As I mentioned earlier, the Penguins production from the first to second line drops from 36.07% to 15.58% while the Rangers only drops slightly from 23.27% to 21.39%. In fact the goal totals are the same between the first and second line for the Rangers, the only difference is three extra assists for the top unit.

3rd Lines

3rd Lines

The third lines are again in the Rangers favor. Can I take a minute to appreciate Brandon Sutter? I know he has his shortcomings , was invisible at times this year, and his possession numbers are horrid at times, but his goal production in March and April matched only Sidney Crosby for the team lead. Without his production, the team does not make the playoffs. Additionally, he is the only viable threat shorthanded for this team. Those two things cannot be understated. It is the only reason the 3rd line for the Penguins has a higher goal total than the Rangers. The Rangers, however, gathered 19 assists to the Penguins 4 over the same time period. Again, the Penguins production drops from 36.07% to 15.58% and now to 13.93%. Meanwhile, the Rangers have seen a drop from 23.27% to 21.39% and now to 18.87%. That is an almost 23% drop in production from the Penguins’ first line to the third line, and only an almost 5% drop from the first line of the Rangers to their third line. As I mentioned, themes and trends here folks. The Rangers balance is hard to match up line for line.

4th Lines

4th Lines

Much has been made about the Penguins lack of having a reasonable fourth line. Their production is actually not that far off in terms of team percentages at 9.02% compared to the Rangers 11.32%. However, a deeper look shows much of that is due to Blake Comeau being placed on this line. His production was as a top-six forward for much of March and April and he was just recently moved to the fourth line. The Rangers fourth line chipped in 9 goals and 9 assists in the past month and a half. Again, balance. Dominic Moore actually led the team in scoring for April, which is amazing. The Penguins best hope is to simply be able to neutralize this line. They aren’t going to get much production, but at the very least, they cannot get beat by the Rangers’ fourth line.

A final glimpse: the Penguins’ first line was 36.07% of the team’s total and the Penguins’ fourth line accounted for 9.02%. A 27.05% drop in production. The Rangers first line was 23.27% of the team’s total and the Rangers’ fourth line accounted for 11.32%. Only a 11.95% drop in production.

Defensemen

Defense

The final comparison is between the defensemen of these two clubs. The Rangers are at 23.27% of the team’s offensive production and maybe more importantly, they have been able to get some goals from this unit. Every member of their team’s top-six unit chipped in at least one goal over the past month and a half. The Penguins saw goals from Ben Lovejoy, Rob Scuderi, and Ian Cole. That said, I doubt many fans expect two of those names to score again in the next set of games. The Penguins are at 15.57% of the team’s total offense and are really hurting from 11 points being absent from the lineup in the form of Kris Letang and Derrick Pouliot, who is not practicing with the team as of yet. Their production will be sorely missed from the lineup in the form of secondary scoring for a team that struggled to put up goals over the last 20-25 games. Taylor Chorney and Christian Ehrhoff, who returned to practice Tuesday, look to round out the top-six with Brian Dumoulin and Scott Harrington waiting in the wings if need be. Getting Christian Ehrhoff back will be a huge boost to this unit if he can stay healthy. When he was healthy, he was logging 24-26 minutes during the season, which would take a lot of pressure off of a unit that was taxed over the last handful of games. Even still, the production from the Penguins’ top-six defensemen will be nowhere near what the Rangers defensemen can bring to the table, especially if Pouliot misses significant time.


What to Expect?

Well, there you have it. Those numbers were not pretty, but they weren’t that surprising either. I looked at one of the NHL’s hottest teams in March and April (Rangers) and one of the NHL’s worst teams (Penguins). So, it comes down to this — can the Penguins win this series? They certainly can, but almost everything needs to fall in their favor. Marc-Andre Fleury needs to outplay Henrik Lundqvist and steal some wins for his club. The young defensemen up from Wilkes-Barre need to contribute offensively while staying defensively sound. Maybe most importantly, the secondary and tertiary scoring needs to show up. The Rangers are good enough defensively to shutdown Hornqvist-Crosby-Winnik, which means players like Chris Kunitz, David Perron, Beau Bennett, and Blake Comeau need to come off of the side of the milk carton and the missing persons list. Finally, the special teams need to win each night. The powerplay needs to produce, but if it continues to struggle, the penalty kill needs to not give up goals against a Rangers powerplay that ranked only 21st in the league during the regular season. The Penguins are certainly looking up at one of the best teams in the league from this past year, and they are severe underdogs. The roles have been reversed for the past 4-5 years, so the biggest question is — how will the Penguins handle an underdog role without any expectations set upon them? Will they play loose and surprise some people, or will they lose in four or five games like the numbers suggest? Only time will tell…


As always, thanks for reading and enjoy the playoffs boys and girls!

 

 

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