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April 22, 2014
by Rob Rossi

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Marshall: Metrics point to Crosby busting goal slump

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.


>> Waiting on The Captain

The Columbus Blue Jackets have managed to keep Penguins captain Sidney Crosby without a goal in Round 1. That’s an impressive feat at face value.

It’s even more impressive when you dive into the possession numbers for Crosby through the first three games of this series.

As a primer to our discussion, let’s remember the value of Corsi percentages in hockey. Since the NHL doesn’t keep time on ice statistics, our goal here is to evaluate who has the puck and who is generating offense at even-strength. Corsi tracks all shooting attempts when a given player is on the ice, that includes saves, deflected shots, blocked shots, etc. It’s a general barometer of which way the ice is tilted in a given match-up.

Through three games against the Blue Jackets, Crosby has a Corsi-For percentage of 61.1 – meaning that 61.1 percent of all shooting attempts at even-strength are shots launched at the Columbus net.

That number is boosted by an absolutely dominant Game 3 performance. Crosby boasted a Corsi-For percentage of 76.2. He was on the ice for 16 attempts towards the Columbus net at even-strength and only 5 attempts launched at Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

These are gaudy numbers by advanced metrics.

The Penguins need Crosby to score goals, and the law of averages alone tells us that if this disparity keeps up, Crosby is going to find his goal groove in a major way. When the best player in the game is getting 76.2 percent of all shooting attempts in a given game, the floodgates might hold for a while – but it’s only a matter of time before they burst.

However, if the Penguins feel like they need to kick-start Crosby at even-strength, the coaching staff might want to consider throwing defensemen Matt Niskanen and Olli Maatta out with him.

Crosby was a 53-percent Corsi-For performer during the regular season, but his possession based metrics and goal-scoring metrics were at their best when he was paired with Niskanen.

Niskanen and Crosby spent 434 minutes together at even-strength – the highest number of minutes played with Crosby by a defender other than Brooks Orpik. The numbers paint a picture of success.

Crosby’s Corsi-For percentage with Niskanen rose to 58 percent at the end of the regular season. In addition, Crosby scored more goals per 20 minutes of even-strength ice time with Niskanen (1.47) and allowed fewer goals against per 20 minutes of even-strength ice time as well (0.50). When all was said and done, 74 percent of all the goals scored when Crosby and Niskanen were on the ice were goals scored by the Penguins.

Whatever the case may be, the advanced metrics of this series tell us not to worry too much about Crosby. If the ice stays tilted the way it has in favor of the Penguins, the road to making this a best-of-three might get a bit longer for Columbus.


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


April 21, 2014
by Rob Rossi

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Rossi: From Columbus, changes come to Pens-Jackets

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Change is coming to Round 1.

As the Penguins-Blue Jackets series shifts to Ohio’s capital city, and the lineups will be different.

For the host Blue Jackets, winger Nick Foligno will make his series debut. Also, defenseman Fedor Tyutin will not play on Monday night. Dalton Prout appears set to replace Tyutin in the lineup.

Blue Jackets coached Todd Richards said before Game 3 that he is “not concerned” with Prout’s insertion into the lineup, noting Prout was a top-four defenseman for Columbus last season.

As for the Penguins, the fourth line consisted of center Joe Vitale with wingers Jayson Megna and Craig Adams. Winger Brian Gibbons (injured) was not part of the mix.

Winger James Neal did not work with the top power-play unit. That consisted of centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin up front with winger Chris Kunitz. Manning the points were defensemen Paul Martin and Matt Niskanen.


Have a look at the Trib’s coverage from Monday:


>> Josh Yohe reports that Marc-Andre Fleury has started strong for the Penguins (though, certainly he will be tested Monday):


>> Columnist Dejan Kovacevic calls for The Mega-Powers to finally Hulk up and bring the Madness:


>> The Playoff Insider examines how a lack of cohesiveness has harmed the Penguins’ top six:


>> Contributor Craig Merz on the excitement in Ohio’s NHL city:


>> Outdated a bit now, but some off-day notes:


>> Finally, this wonderful piece by Jason Mackey on the state of Columbus hockey – a must read for fans of the sport:



Be EXCELLENT to each other,



April 20, 2014
by Rob Rossi

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Rossi: Pens look willing to give it away now

Sidney Crosby has been credited with six giveaways in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Columbus Blue Jackets have five.

Think about that.

A lot is being made about the hit difference between these teams. Columbus has 99 hits to the Penguins’ 55.

Full disclosure: NHL real-time stats such as hits and blocks and giveaways – well, let’s just go with there being no consistency. What constitutes a hit in Pittsburgh is not necessarily the same definition of one in Columbus, Philadelphia or Montreal.

Still, the number that will generate a lot of talk between Easter Sunday and Game 3 is the Blue Jacket’s plus-44 advantage in hits.

Clearly, they have prioritized physicality.

Clearly, too, it is working in one way. The Penguins are turning over the puck way too often.

They have seemingly had more turnovers than the 23 giveaways for which they are credited. Crosby surely has more than the six on his ledger.

Still, whatever measured a giveaway in Games 1 and 2, Columbus ended up with 17 fewer than the Penguins.

Maybe the Blue Jackets cannot win this series, though that seems unfair to suggest given how they conceivably could have a 2-0 lead.

However, the Penguins surely can give it to them – and so far, they have tried.



>> Check out the quote in this Game 2 recap from Columbus coach Todd Richards regarding the Crosby matchup:


>> Jason Mackey captures the scene surrounding Columbus’ first playoff victory:


>> Also from Mackey, the burgeoning Interstate Rivalry is on:


>> Chris Adamski with assorted notes from Game 2:


>> Adamski on Brian Gibbons up-then-down Game 2:


>> Adamski on the sequence that swung Game 2:


>> Columnist Joe Starkey on the something foul in the air for the Penguins:

Happy Easter.

As always, spare a thought for our troops as you spend time with your loved ones. Thanks to those men and women.

Be EXCELLENT to each other,


April 19, 2014
by Rob Rossi

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Rossi: Pens look for rare home-ice hold

Numbers do lie. That is one of the first things a journalist learns. Numbers can be manipulated, at least the presentation of them, to fit any narrative. This is probably worth keeping in mind as the Stanley Cup playoff progress, especially when it comes to Games 2 and 5 for a best-of-seven series. Usually, the winners of those games take the series.

The Penguins lost Games 2 and 5 at Detroit in 2009 and still won the Stanley Cup.

Trends exist to be gone against.

Consider the Penguins, who once dominated on home ice in the playoffs – especially early in series. From 2008-09, they went 15-1 in the first two series games played in Pittsburgh. Their lone loss came in their only series defeat. They dropped Game 4 at Mellon Arena against Detroit in 2008. The Red Wings took a 3-1 series lead, and that was basically that regarding the Cup.

Mostly, though, during the Cup Final runs, the Penguins either essentially ended a series by going up, 2-0, or – as was the case against Washington and Detroit in 2009 – evened the series by sweeping Games 3 and 4 at home.

The Penguins are playing their eighth series since last winning the Cup. They are trying to win the opening games at home for only the second time.

Taking firm control and making home ice a true advantage – that is before the Penguins for Game 2 against Columbus on Saturday night.

Now, to get you ready for the action…


>> Josh Yohe reports that some Cup veterans are again calling for improved discipline from the Penguins:


>> Jason Mackey spied an all-time Penguins great in the dressing room on Friday:


>> Contributor Craig Merz, from Columbus, on Sergei Bobrovsky’s rebound attempt:


>> Kris Letang offered contrition, but coach Dan Bylsma wants more – as in a resurrection of his 2009 form:


>> The “Insider” looks at the Penguins’ power-play plan, which actually was not changed by Letang’s off Game 1:

Puck drops around 7 p.m.

Be EXCELLENT to each other,


April 18, 2014
by Rob Rossi

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Rossi: Does Bylsma change anything for Game 2?

A happy Good Friday to the dear readers, one upon which the Penguins will return to practice in advance of Game 2 against Columbus. With two days between the opening contests, it will be interesting to see what – if any – changes the Penguins plan after a 4-3 victory in Game 1.

To get you ready before our afternoon updates, here are some links to the coverage led by Josh Yohe from Thursday’s off-day.


>> They know each other well, these two head coaches:


>> Once a reason for success, the Penguins’ penalty kill is now often a reason for struggles. A “Playoff Insider” by Yohe:


>> Chris Adamski looks at speed, why it really does kill, and how it makes Brian Gibbons a factor:


Also, paired with that piece in print, this Melanie Wass’ designed graphic on some stats from Game 1:



>> From Columbus, contributor Craig Merz on the potential return for the Blue Jackets by Plum’s R. J. Umberger:



Be EXCELLENT to each other,




April 16, 2014
by Rob Rossi

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Rossi: Preview the Penguins’ Stanley Cup quest

The Stanley Cup playoffs are upon us, and there is no better time of the hockey season than the next two weeks. Round 1, where they could be upsets by upstarts and will be an uprising of an eventual champion.

The #TribHKY team likes to believe we have you covered. Please follow us on Twitter: @RobRossi_Trib @JoshYohe_Trib @C_AdamskiTrib @Mackey_Trib @Dejan_Kovacevic @JoeStarkey1 and @jmarshfof

Also, with the Penguins set to open against Columbus in Game 1 at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday night, please enjoy this kind-of Playoff Preview:


>> Josh Yohe on the one thing Sidney Crosby really wants:


>> Evgeni Malkin wants to force opponents to defend Crosby differently:


>> Chris Adamski with the latest on Tomas Vokoun, and other assorted notes:


>> From COLUMBUS, meet the confident Blue Jackets:


>> Joe Starkey on the pressure that faces Marc-Andre Fleury:


>> Jesse Marshall with an advanced stats look at the Penguins-Blue Jackets series:


>> Depth, and why it might be all right for the Penguins:


>> Yohe’s in-depth look at coach Dan Bylsma’s system:


>> Jason Mackey’s series scouting report:


>> Structurally, the Blue Jackets resemble the Penguins:


>> Dejan Kovacevic on what a Round 1 exit should mean:


>> Mark Stevens’ grand design of a look at reasons why the Penguins will and will not win the Cup:



>> Melanie Wass’ delicious design of The New Guys the Penguins will need to win it all:



>> Wass’ wonderful design of those Penguins who are Needed Now for a Cup run:



>> Wass’ finale, on the Penguins for whom the Pressure Is On:




Stick tap to Trib executive sports editor Kevin Smith for his planning contribution to these stories/pages, and the hardest working group of night editors in Newspaper Land for their patience and professionalism.


Be EXCELLENT to each other,


April 15, 2014
by Rob Rossi

4 comments so far - add yours!

Marshall: Pens-Jackets By-the-Metrics

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 Follow him on Twitter @jmarshfof



April 14, 2014
by Rob Rossi

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Rossi: Crosby snagged scoring title – and rest

Sidney Crosby has his second scoring title.

He also had off two of the Penguins’ final four games.

Which is more important to the big picture that will be the Penguins’ 2014 postseason?

The club is off Monday. The playoffs open Wednesday with Game 1 against Columbus at Consol Energy Center. Our #TribHKY team is hard at work on stories that should get the Dear Readers prepared for the playoffs.

We dropped the puck on our expanded coverage Monday, and it begins with this Melanie Wass designed info graphic on “The New Guys” for this playoff party:




>> The Blue Jackets admit they have paid the Penguins too much respect. Will the awe-factor be in play for Round 1?


>> Notes on Crosby’s nearly complete season, a puzzling scratch of Brandon Sutter, and the Evgeni Malkin watch:


>> It was hard to watch, as was most of the final few weeks. Josh Yohe reports on a meh finale to an otherwise outstanding regular season:


>> Jason Mackey did some deep digging to scout the Penguins-Blue Jackets matchup. You’ll like this, PuckHeads:


>> Oh, you didn’t know? Well, here is the Round 1 schedule:


>> Columnist Dejan Kovacevic is of the opinion that Round 1 is win-or-get lost for the Penguins:


>> FROM SUNDAY, columnist Joe Starkey witnessed the unofficial return of Kris Letang:


>> Also, FROM SUNDAY, contributor Jonathan Bombulie’s look at the AHL depth on defense:


>> Also, FROM SUNDAY, Trib editor/designer Mark Stevens with a wonderful graphic take on my reasons the Penguins will/won’t win the Cup:



Be EXCELLENT to each other,


April 14, 2014
by Josh Yohe

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Pens/Blue Jackets playoff schedule

Here’s the schedule for Pens/Blue Jackets:

Game 1: Wednesday, April 16, 7:30 p.m. at Consol Energy Center

Game 2: Saturday, April 19, 7 p.m. at Consol Energy Center

Game 3: Monday, April 21, 7 p.m. at Nationwide Arena

Game 4: Wednesday, April 23, 7 p.m. at Nationwide Arena

Game 5: Saturday, April 26, time TBD at Consol Energy Center*

Game 6: Monday, April 28, time TBD at Nationwide Arena*

Game 7: Wednesday, April 30, time TBD at Consol Energy Center*

* If necessary

April 10, 2014
by Rob Rossi

6 comments so far - add yours!

Marshall: The metrics behind Crosby’s MVP case

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.



It’s easy to point to Sidney Crosby as the leading candidate for the Hart Trophy, an award presented annually to “the player judged to be most valuable to his team,” simply because of his 17-point lead over Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf in the NHL scoring race.

But there’s more than meets the eye to Crosby’s 102 point season, especially when you dive into advanced metrics to see how he’s impacted the offensive production of the Penguins as a whole.

Let’s start at even-strength, where the Penguins have scored 157 goals this season. Crosby has been on the ice for 67 of those even-strength goals. Almost half (42 percent) of all the goals scored by the Penguins.

Out of Crosby’s presence on the ice for those 67 goals, he’s registered a point on 57 of them. So not only has Crosby been on the ice for nearly half of the teams even-strength goals, he’s registered a point on 85 percent of all the goals he’s been on the ice for, a number that is tops for the Penguins roster this season.

But let’s dive into these numbers even further. Out of Crosby’s 57 even-strength points, 45 of them are defined as primary points. A primary point is a goal or first assist on a goal. This isn’t meant to diminish the second assist, which is more important than ever in today’s NHL, but it’s a testament to the direct impact that Crosby has on his club. In fact, of Crosby’s 102 total points this season, 68 of them are goals and primary assists. If you took Crosby’s second assists out of his point totals, he’d have the same number of points as the captain of the Chicago Blackhawks, Jonathan Toews and would still be in the top 20 scorers in the NHL.

An important distinction to make in evaluating these numbers is Crosby’s quality of competition this season. In looking at the possession-based metrics of Crosby’s opponents, one thing is clear: coach Dan Bylsma has never put Crosby in more difficult situations than he has this year. Crosby is only starting 50 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, a number that is about 4 percent down from his yearly averages. Also, he’s facing competition that is roughly 30 percent more difficult than he’s ever experienced in his career based on shooting attempts alone.

Not only has Crosby produced offensively, he’s been just as potent defensively. The Penguins have allowed 148 goals against at even-strength this year, with Crosby only appearing on the ice for 50 of those goals against for 33 percent total.

The Penguins also face less shots when Crosby is on the ice, a testament to how well his line as possessed the puck this season. The Penguins average 24 shots against per 60 minutes that Crosby is on the ice. With Crosby averaging just over 21 minutes at even-strength per game, that equates to about 7.8 shots every three games. Only one Penguin is better in that regard; Matt Niskanen falls in at 23.3.

With the Stanley Cup playoffs slated to start in a week, Penguin fans can rest easy knowing that the Crosby show can continue for at least a first round performance. And if the regular season is any indication, the MVP-like performance should continue when the games really count.


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



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