(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.)
THE FACEOFF FACTOR: MATT NISKANEN
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 www.faceoff-factor.com. Follow him on Twitter @jmarshfof
>> Oh, those Penguins and that quickly deteriorating defense: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/pensgalleries/5448040-74/penguins-panthers-goals
>> Josh Yohe starts the notes with a look at Robert Bortuzzo: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5448042-74/bortuzzo-penguins-dupuis#axzz2r0DMHOoz
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,