Three Observations Heading Into Game 78 Between the Penguins and Wild

The Pens Nation Gameday Report

By: Casey Johnston (@PensNationCasey)

Penguins Getting Outshot

Before the Olympic break, the Penguins had a team Fenwick (all shot attempts excluding blocked shots) of 51.17%.  If maintained over the course of a season, that number would be good for 10th in the league.  Since coming back from Sochi, the team’s Fenwick has been 45.91%.  Over a full season, that would put them at 28th in the NHL, just above the Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Buffalo Sabres.  Even if you don’t buy into numbers like Fenwick, you cannot argue with the team’s 9-8-1 record since the end of the break.  Injuries have been a factor.  Pascal Dupuis, Evgeni Malkin, Paul Martin, and Kris Letang are all strong possession players who have been sidelined with injuries.  Simon Despres has a Corsi rating of 53.2% when he’s not sitting in the press box.  Overall, the Penguins sit right in middle of the league at 15th place in possession.  Three of their last five opponents in the regular season are teams in the bottom half of the league.  Pay attention, not just tonight but for the rest of the season, to see how they respond.

Beau to the Top

On Thursday against the Jets, Dan Bylsma replaced Lee Stempniak with Beau Bennett on the top line.  Stempniak has seven points (3g-4a) in his last 10 games and the first line has 26 points at even strength with him on it, so the move wasn’t so much about the play of Stempniak as it was about the play of Bennett.  Since returning from his injury on March 28th against the Blue Jackets, Bennett has two goals and an assist in four games.  His Corsi numbers have not dropped below 54.5%.  Whatever line he’s on has been strong in possession.  Going into Thursday’s game, Sidney Crosby had a 53.6% Corsi rating in his last nine games.  With Bennett on his line against the Jets that number went up to 66.7%.  James Neal also benefitted from the Bennett Bump in Corsi.  In ten games before Bennett’s return, Neal had a Corsi rating of 54.4%, which is good, but that number went up to 69.3% for the three games he played with Bennett.  Against the Jets Crosby, Bennett, and Chris Kunitz had an average Corsi of 66.2%.  Bennett thanked Bylsma for his trust by giving the team a goal.  You can’t ask for more than that.

Martin Thrown Into the Fire

Dan Bylsma wasted no time in getting Paul Martin back into the swing of things against the Winnipeg Jets.  He led the team with 23:46 total TOI.  He played against the Jet’s toughest competition while having a Corsi rating of 57.9%.  For his efforts, Martin skated away with a power play goal.  You really couldn’t have asked for a better performance in Martin’s first game in over a month.  You also couldn’t have asked Martin to return at a better time (see first observation).  The Penguins need more positive possession players and Paul Martin fits that description.  He keeps the puck moving in the offensive zone while not being so far out of position that he sacrifices defense.  He leads the team in total ice time because he’s good enough to play big minutes on both the power play and the penalty kill.  As the Penguins are mired in a month-long slump, Paul Martin has returned just in time to right the ship for the playoffs.