Every couple seasons, it seems like the Pittsburgh Penguins try to set a record for man games lost with their core players, and somehow they find a way to pull through and make the playoffs.
This year, Sidney Crosby saw them through the early part of the season where seemingly everyone was out even though he was struggling with a sports hernia that needed surgery himself. Since Crosby took his leave, the player driving the bus for the Penguins is this week’s Spotlight Performer.
Every time Sidney Crosby gets hurt, Evgeni Malkin acts like he’s Goku and Krillin just died. That’s a Dragonball Z reference, and I’m not sorry.
Every time, Malkin seems to find a new gear when his teammate miss time, and this season is no different. The point production is always a good place to start but what Malkin has been able to do this season to keep the Penguins a dominant team with their captain and best player out goes beyond just goals and assists. In fact, it’s more than just offence.
As a general look at where Malkin stands this season, we can compare every player in the league who has played at least 300 minutes at 5-vs-5 in the amount of scoring chances he has a hand in creating, contrasted with how many transition plays he makes every 20 minutes.
That lone mark way off on the far right is Malkin, creating a startling amount of offence, way beyond what anyone else in the league is doing, including Connor McDavid. It helps to play on a better team than McDavid does, and rest assured that I’m not going to suggest that Malkin is the superior player overall, but so far this season he has been remarkable, moving the puck up the ice at the rate of the league’s elite, and creating offence more efficiently than anyone.
The cluster of players on the left side of the graph are mostly defencemen, as you might guess, while the cluster on the right are mostly forwards. The gap with which Malkin outpaces the average of the forward group is even larger than the gap between the average defender and average forward, which really drives home how utterly dominant he has been.
The other labelled player on the graph we’re going to circle back to in a bit.
This week Steve Dangle wants to know about those disappointing San Jose Sharks. He asks…
“It’s easy to blame the goaltending in San Jose, but it was awful last year as well, so how deep are the problems there for this season to go so off the rails?”
Martin Jones and Aaron Dell are a goaltending tandem that scares no one, but you’re right that goaltending isn’t the big problem this time around. It’s not good, but comparing the Sharks of last year to the Sharks of this year, things look really bad.
Last season the Sharks were a pretty excellent team that was held back by truly terrible goaltending. They held an advantage in nearly every category at 5-vs-5, even if some were by thin margins, but this season they’ve regressed in almost every area.
Control of the inner slot has dropped by nearly 10 percentage points. Control of the slot overall has dropped over five percentage points, and even in the areas where the Sharks haven’t been dragged into the negatives in per cent of team control, there’s no area where they aren’t worse than they were last season.
So what’s going on here? Surely part of the issue is the loss of Joe Pavelski:
same with Sharks, now that Joe Pavelski is gone.
— nobody (@petbugs13) January 8, 2020
However Pavelski hasn’t had a sterling first season away from the Sharks either, so they may have ‘lost’ Pavelski even if they retained their captain. He is 35-years-old after all.
Losing Joonas Donskoi hurt as well. Even in years where he wasn’t putting up tons of points, he was an excellent play driver who really improved their depth.
But the roster losses likely don’t loom as large here as the underperforming players.
Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic have seemingly fallen down the proverbial elevator shaft in terms of overall performance, and while the signs have been there for Vlasic for several seasons now, Burns is likely the one that hurts the most.
Combine all those factors with Erik Karlsson not having a great season either, and the team’s relatively old and extremely expensive defence is an absolute mess. That’s an uphill battle to fight out of if ever there was one.
• Age seems to be catching up to the Sharks in a brutal way, but you know who just keeps chugging along? Jumbo Joe Thornton is rocking a 52.5 per cent inner slot shot differential, 52.8 per cent slot pass differential, and 53.1 per cent shot attempt differential. He’s not a big point producer anymore, but the man is still killing it. Ageless.
• I promised I’d circle back to it, but scroll up the page and look at the graph for Evgeni Malkin again.
Do you see Roman Josi? Do you see how far he’s removed from the cluster of defencemen offensively? Josi’s 6.05 scoring chances created per 20 minutes at 5-vs-5 is nearly 40 per cent better than the next-most dynamic offensive defenceman this season, and he also leads all defencemen in transition play. The Predators have been in freefall, enough to get Peter Laviolette fired, but it hasn’t been because of their captain.
• Defence hasn’t been an issue for Josi this year either as he and Ryan Ellis have controlled over 60 per cent of the inner slot shots while they’ve been on the ice, and over 57 per cent of slot passes. John Carlson is putting up record-setting offensive numbers, but Josi should be the front-runner for the Norris right now.
• For the first time in what seems like forever, Alex Ovechkin doesn’t have a massive lead on his peers in scoring chances on net in all situations. His 114 paces the league, but Kyle Connor is on his heels with 111, while Auston Matthews and Nathan MacKinnon are close with 105 and 102 respectively.
• I’m still betting on Ovechkin to take the scoring title though, and the simplest reason is one-timers. Over 32 per cent of Ovechkin’s shots are one-timers, contrast that with 10.1 per cent for Connor, 19.1 per cent with Matthews, and 22.4 per cent for MacKinnon. It’s going to take a lot to dethrone the king.