What We Learned: Why the Penguins are in trouble

What We Learned: Why the Penguins are in trouble

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

The Penguins didn't win yesterday, but don't blame Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.

In fact, never blame them for anything ever again. It's obviously a bit facile to say, “Oh, Evgeni Malkin coming back? That's going to be huge for the Penguins.” But the extent to which it is huge is actually kind of surprising in just how huge it is.

The Penguins' depth problems have long been obvious to everyone paying even the remotest of attention to their situation the last two seasons (and that's even after Jim Rutherford having taken serious steps to address that issue this summer). On some level it's always going to be an issue because you have to play two of the three or four best centers in the world commensurate to their skills, and those two deals alone eat up a lot of cap space as a result. Add in a few other big deals — deserved or not — on the Penguins roster and you arrive at a team that suffers greatly when Malkin and Sidney Crosby are not on the ice.

The good news for Pittsburgh is that they are on the ice for about two-thirds of any given Penguins game. At least, those in which they both appear. The problem, then, is that Malkin and Crosby have missed a combined 42 games for Pittsburgh in the last two seasons, though fortunately with very little overlap. Crosby has missed seven games, Malkin missed 35, and both at the same time missed just three.

They're 16-17-2 without Malkin, 9-7-0 without Crosby, and 2-0-1 with neither over the last two seasons. This doesn't make a whole lot of sense, especially because they are dramatically outscored sans Malkin (minus-19 at 5-on-5) and either marginally ahead (plus-2) or even when Crosby or neither are in the lineup, respectively. That they should be getting so many points from those games is a little surprising.

In terms of the absolute basics beyond wins and losses, both Crosby and Malkin have relative corsi and goal numbers in the double digits, meaning that when the game is played at 5-on-5, the Penguins are genuinely much, much worse when neither star on the ice. This stands to reason, and it's not necessarily an indictment of the team as a whole, even if the majority of the roster isn't good. Again, both play a ton and both are elite drivers of possession and scoring numbers, so to not measure up, or perhaps even come close, isn't really that much of a surprise, even if the other is on the ice for about half the other minutes available; in a lot of cases you're playing one-third of the game with stop-gap players at best.

But those players get flat-out demolished. These overall numbers are grisly to say the least:

(The number that stands out there is the Penguins score goals more effectively when neither Crosby nor Malkin are on than when both centers play together. But keep this in mind: First, neither number is any good at all, and second, in the few minutes they've been on the ice together at 5-on-5 in the last two seasons, they've gotten .868 goaltending behind them. That seems impossible.)

Now, again, no kidding. Sure. But those numbers include every minute neither Crosby nor Malkin were on the ice, whether they were injured or just waiting for their next shift. What's really interesting is what happens when those players aren't in the lineup at all.

As you can see, both Crosby and Malkin continue to drive possession when their counterpart top center is out of the lineup, while the Penguins struggle a little to stay above water. I'd chalk the more positive percentages in the games without Crosby (like a 57.1 percent goals-for rate when Malkin is off the ice) to the small sample size of just seven games; the Pens sans Malkin outscored their opponents 3-2, so it's not that crazy; they also had a 50.1 percent possession rate, which is more in line with what you'd expect.

And for the record, the Pens carried 50.2 percent corsi-for and 50 percent goals-for rates in the three games that both Crosby and Malkin missed.

But it's the numbers without Malkin that are so telling, because it's over 35 games, it starts to at least give you a decent idea of what the Penguins are in a world without that star player. And it isn't pretty. Overall they carry a 50 percent corsi and a 42.1 percent goals rate without Malkin, and those numbers plummet to 47.2 percent and 31 percent when Crosby isn't on the ice. Those numbers would be 25th and dead last in the league, respectively, if carried over a whole season.

And while it's not new information, it shows that if either player is out for a considerable length of time, the kind of garment-rending and teeth-gnashing that goes on in Pittsburgh — and the kinds of slides the team tends to go on — are to be expected. This team goes from good to poor in a bit of a hurry.

And this is the most telling data of the lot: Even when they have both those guys healthy and in the lineup — a rarity these days — all Mike Johnston can do is pray for is that the third and fourth lines don't get scored on, because they're not going to pile up too many goals themselves. And more often than not, his prayers go unanswered.

With Crosby and Malkin, the Penguins are probably going to continue to push their opponents into their own end, and will likely also generate enough quality scoring chances that they can continue to win as they have.

Without them, the Penguins are literally as bad as the Sabres.

Consequently, if this season really does go down to the wire — a concept that would have been inconceivable just a few months ago — it might be wise to start double-shifting both of them. And even then, the Penguins' depth problems are going to cause problems because the guys who play with Crosby and Malkin usually aren't good enough to really make a huge difference. Witness yesterday's third-period shouting match on the bench between Malkin, who was dominant in his return game, and Blake Comeau, who blew about half a dozen quality scoring chances Malkin created all by himself.

But the point stands that, even exhausted, 30-minutes-a-night Malkin and Crosby probably can't do worse than 42.1 percent of shot attempts and 34.5 percent of goals.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Jakob Silfverberg is really starting to play well for the Ducks, who kinda needed the help for a little while there. Ducks could be scary come playoff time for once.

Arizona Coyotes: Can't even tank right.

Boston Bruins: I thought this was an interesting look at how bad the Lucic-Spooner-Pastrnak line is defensively, but the conclusion that the possession difficulties don't matter ignores two rather important issues as to why they're outscoring opponents 11-5 in the last 20 games: 1) Bruins goalies have a .954 save percentage behind them in almost 162 5-on-5 minutes, and 2) 80.2 percent of their shifts start in the offensive zone against some pretty low-level competition.

Buffalo Sabres: Today in “Bleak Headlines.”

Calgary Flames: The Flames tied a franchise record for road wins with a W in Edmonton on Saturday. The last Flames team to get 22 wins away from Calgary was 1988-89, which won the Cup. Don't draw too many conclusions there, though.

Carolina Hurricanes: Cam Ward is a career 13-30 in the shootout. That's not a good number.

Chicago: Turns out this Jonathan Toews guy is a good two-way center. Who knew?

Colorado Avalanche: Wow, 10 whole shots on goal. But they did score once, so they shot 10 percent, and that's what hard work and generating good scoring chances gets you, baby!

Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets have won nine straight games. They were five games below .500 like three weeks ago. They've also been mathematically eliminated for a while now.

Dallas Stars: The Stars scored nine goals in two games this weekend, and only won one of them because hockey is hilarious. And at only six points out of a playoff spot with three games to go, they're technically still alive.

Detroit Red Wings: When you need a lengthy video review in the eighth round of the shootout to get you a victory, you know it was well-earned.

Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers are so depleted by injury that Taylor Hall was the center for the top line. That's not ideal. Neither is losing 4-0 at home to your biggest rival.

Florida Panthers: Another season without the playoffs in Sunrise. It'll be awesome to watch a full season with Jagr on the top line though.

Los Angeles Kings: Here's Alec Martinez definitely scoring twice on the same play. Don't know what the ref was looking at on the irst one, but this only counts for his sixth of the year, not sixth and seventh.

Minnesota Wild: Chris Stewart is actually playing pretty well for Minnesota (53.2 percent CF, good goal and assist numbers per 60, and only kind of inflated 102.6 PDO in 16 games). But should they re-sign him? I'm dubious that you want to give him that much money or term but if you can get it done affordably it's probably not a terrible decision based on this admittedly small sample.

Montreal Canadiens: Of all the things wrong with the Canadiens, is the power play really the thing to be most concerned about at this point?

Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: Imagine finishing with as many as 110 points on the season and your first-round playoff opponent might be the damn Kings? What a life.

New Jersey Devils: “It irritates,” said Dainius Zubrus, but he was talking about getting smoked by the Rangers, not playing for three different coaches simultaneously.

New York Islanders: Jaroslav Halak picked up his 37th win of the year, in handing Buffalo its 12th shut out. Real Ted Nolan quote from after the game: “You can't ask for more.” Haha, hoo boy.

New York Rangers: Not saying Henrik Lundqvist isn't playing well, but it's easy to look good against a post-deadline Devils offense.

Ottawa Senators: This is video of Erik Karlsson recording the 300th point of his career. He added another later in the night, and now has 301in only played 393 games. It's not a stretch to say he could be a 1,000-point guy in his career, and he'd be one of just nine d-men to ever reach that mark. He's already 14th in points per game.

Philadelphia Flyers: Whatever keeps you warm at night, I guess.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Here's a question: Would missing the playoffs really be so horrible for the Penguins? Might it engender actual, meaningful, helpful change for a roster that badly needs it?

San Jose Sharks: Ahhh, give it up.

St. Louis Blues: Really interesting look at how the greater St. Louis area is starting to churn out more hockey prospects. Four guys from that region will be playing in the Frozen Four this week.

Tampa Bay Lightning: If you're Tampa, finishing first in the division might not actually be that desirable. Wouldn't you much rather play Detroit than Boston or Ottawa or Pittsburgh?

Toronto Maple Leafs: In general it's a good idea to leave a game with a shot differential that's better than minus-22. But hey, they got the loser point!

Vancouver Canucks: Even if the Canucks get in, they have to understand they're probably not going to advance.

Washington Capitals: Not ideal to drop points when you're in this tight a race, but coming back from down three goals to even get one is an accomplishment.

Winnipeg Jets: This is a really good, and big, goal for Lee Stempniak.

Play of the Weekend

Hell of a buzzer-beater from Derek Stepan. What's Eric Gelinas doing there?

Gold Star Award

There's only a week left of the regular season. Then it's playoff time. Can you believe how fast this season went?

Minus of the Weekend

WINNIPEG, MB - APRIL 4: Michael Frolik #67 of the Winnipeg Jets puts pressure on Chris Higgins #20 of the Vancouver Canucks as Ondrej Pavelec #31 manages to get the puck out of the net during third period action in an NHL game at the MTS Centre on April 4, 2015 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images)
WINNIPEG, MB - APRIL 4: Michael Frolik #67 of the Winnipeg Jets puts pressure on Chris Higgins #20 of the Vancouver Canucks as Ondrej Pavelec #31 manages to get the puck out of the net during third period action in an NHL game at the MTS Centre on April 4, 2015 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images)

Lots of bad goalies can have one good season. Look at Ondrej Pavelec.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “finnbalor” has a funny way of valuing Toronto centers.


Cam Ward + Alexander Semin + 2015 1st round pick


Bernier + Phaneuf + Bozak/Kadri (Carolina's choice)

Actually it's closer to... zero.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here