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Rossi: Marshall FACTORS in Niskanen.


(Note from Rossi: Jesse Marshall, a local hockey blogger, has agreed to share his unique brand of analytical insight on this blog. His contributions will appear on a as-we-think-of-it basis. Enjoy.)



With a plus-25 rating this season, good for first in the NHL, Matt Niskanen is providing some punch for the Penguins at both ends of the ice. GM Ray Shero’s idea not to trade him last summer is looking very good.

Plus/minus is a subjective statistic, but some advanced metrics show Niskanen’s true value to the Penguins, who have played only three games with their four highest-paid defensemen in the lineup.

The Penguins have scored a total of 104 goals at even-strength situations. That ranks fourth in the NHL. Niskanen has been on the ice for 47 of those goals. He is first among all Penguins players, better by 3 than overall scoring leader Sidney Crosby.

Look at it this way: Only two defensemen in the league has been on the ice for more even-strength goals for ­– Chicago’s pairing of Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith, each with 55.

Niskanen is in good company, but his defense has proven more impressive.

The Penguins have allowed 94 goals against in all even-strength situations. Niskanen has only been on the ice for 25 of those goals – and that during 800 minutes of ice time.

Niskanen is on the ice for a lot of even-strength goals, but 65 percent have gone to the Penguins. He leads the club in that area, ahead of winger Chris Kunitz (62 percent) and center Evgeni Malkin (54 percent).

He finds himself in good company as his goals for percentage ranks him tenth in the NHL among players with at least 46 games played, only 7 percent behind league leader Anze Kopitar at 72 percent.

None of this is to suggest that Niskanen is a Norris Trophy contender, but he certainly has provided two-way stability for the Penguins during a season that has featured repeated injuries to members of the defense corps.

Remember, the Penguins have 78 man-games lost to their defense corps alone. That is almost a full season.

Given the importance of defensemen to coach Dan Bylsma’s system, Niskanen has been a big reason the Penguins have remained atop the Metropolitan Division since mid-November despite playing mostly without two of their top-four defensemen.

Niskanen is viewed by coaches as the fifth defenseman when all players are available. So far, he has played a lot more like a No. 1.


Jesse Marshall is co-founder of Faceoff-Factor, a site that breaks down the Penguins by using nontraditional methods such as the study of advanced statistics. Read his work at Follow him on Twitter @jmarshfof 



>> Oh, those Penguins and that quickly deteriorating defense:

>> Josh Yohe starts the notes with a look at Robert Bortuzzo:


Yohe has practice Tuesday. Guessing it will be a long and particularly harsh one given Bylsma’s rare show of public dissatisfaction Monday night.


Be EXCELLENT to each other,





Author: Rob Rossi

Rob Rossi is the lead sports columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has been called many names, but “Rossi” is the one to which he most often responds. He joined the Trib in November 2002 and was promoted to the columnist role in July 2014. Previously, he had covered the NHL’s Penguins (2006-14) and MLB’s Pirates (2006), while also working on beats associated with the NFL’s Steelers (2005-06) and the NCAA’s Pitt (2004-06). He has won national and local awards for his coverage of youth concussions and athletes’ charities. Also, he is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association executive committee and the Pittsburgh chapter chair. Raised in Crafton and Green Tree and a graduate of West Virginia University, he has covered a Super Bowl, All-Star Games in baseball and hockey, the NCAA basketball tournament and over 100 Stanley Cup playoff games, including the Cup Final twice. Oh, and his sports reporting has led him to brief chats with Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen; so that’s pretty cool. He is a regular contributor on TV with WPXI, Root Sports Pittsburgh and TSN. Also, he is the authorized biographer of Penguins star Evgeni Malkin.

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