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 an as-we-think-of-it basis. Enjoy.
>> The FACTOR: Pens vs. Jackets
The Penguins may have held a 5-0 record over the Columbus Blue Jackets this season, but the advanced metrics for these two teams indicate this playoff should be much closer than many have anticipated.
Let’s start by looking at a few even-strength based metrics surrounding goals to show the small gap between these clubs. The Penguins scored 161 goals at even-strength this year, 10 better than the Blue Jackets (151). However, the Blue Jackets have allowed only 144 goals against at even-strength this year, 10 better than the Penguins (154). Both teams have an identical goals-for percentage of 51.1 percent.
The similarities continue when we take a look at Fenwick numbers for these teams. Fenwick tracks all shot attempts directed at a team’s net (saves, shots that hit the post, shots that hit miss the net); but it excludes blocked shots. I like to use this number for the NHL postseason analysis since blocked shots increase in frequency during the playoffs.
This season, the Penguins had a Fenwick-For percentage of 50.2 percent, meaning that 50.2 percent of all shooting attempts at even-strength that were not blocked belonged to the Penguins. Columbus boasts a nearly identical number at 50.8 percent. The two teams launch shots at the net at almost an identical rate.
A key match-up in this series is the bottom-six forwards. The Blue Jackets feature Artem Anisimov and former-Penguin Mark Letestu centering the third and fourth lines, respectively. These lines have boasted some fairly good numbers this season for the Blue Jackets. Letestu and Anisimov have been on the ice for 63 even-strength goals this season. Brandon Sutter and Craig Adams – the duo likely to center the bottom six lines for the Penguins – have only been on the ice for 33 even-strength goals scored this season, and have been on the ice for 61 total goals against.
The Penguins’ third and fourth lines may not need to generate offense for the Penguins to win this series, but they need to generate momentum and keep the puck out of their own net.
One area in which the Penguins hold a distinct advantage is in the special teams battle between these clubs. Columbus was 1-for-14 (7.1 percent) on the power play against the Penguins, who went 5-for-17 (26.3 percent).
One final note: Of the 300 minutes of hockey played between these teams in the regular season, the Blue Jackets held a lead for only 56 seconds of that time. That’s important when you consider how these teams operate when scoring first. The Penguins boast a .841 winning percentage when scoring the first goal. The Blue Jackets only win .281 percent of their games when allowing the first goal, a number that was good for 18th in the NHL. With the Blue Jackets having 251 total postseason games played among their roster to the Penguins’ 1,154, playoff experience – particularly when it comes to the first goal-scored – might decide the series.
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