COVID-us Interruptus, Part 1 of ?

Thanks to the New Jersey Devils, of which nearly half the team must have thought it would be funny to have a COVID party, the Pittsburgh Penguins have their first real break of the season. Having last played on Sunday, their next game isn’t until Saturday at Nassau Veterans Coliseum against the New York Islanders. The Islanders have won nine of the last twelve games against Pittsburgh, including their four-game sweep in the first round of the 2019 playoffs. In the meantime, I wanted to fill the time in-between with a post of news and notes from around the League, as well as some personal thoughts about how things are going. I have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll have to do this more than once this season, hence the question mark.

The Penguins hold a three point lead over New York for fourth place in the Eastern Division, but that is also the difference between fourth place and eighth and last place in the division. The same difference separates Pittsburgh from third place in the division, currently held by the Boston Bruins, so that goes to show you just how precarious the Penguins position is in these early goings. Again, a shortened season means a win or loss holds somewhat more importance, and the fact that it’s a condensed season means that any breaks a team can get are that much more valuable.

What the Penguins really need to focus on is their performance on the power play. They are currently tied for ninth in terms of the number of power play opportunities, but they have the ninth-worst in success rate. Only one team has had more opportunities and of those has converted a lower rate, the Minnesota Wild, but they are not exactly known for their offensive prowess, although 5.13% is embarrassingly anemic. Nevertheless, the Penguins’ 13.89% rate currently stands as one of the worst in franchise history. Only four times in Penguins history have they ended the season with a power play success rate under 16%:

  • 13.55% in 1967-68, the team’s first season in existence;
  • 15.61% in 1999-00, when the Penguins incredibly still made it to the second round of the playoffs;
  • 14.03% in 2001-02, which by points percentage was the Penguins’ eleventh-worst season ever;
  • and 15.76% in 2010-11, Dan Bylsma’s second season in Pittsburgh, the sixth-best in franchise history, a year that saw just 41 games from Sidney Crosby, 43 from Evgeni Malkin, 42 by Jordan Staal, and 20 by Alex Kovalev in his penultimate season in the NHL.

For much of the last thirty years, the Penguins have featured at the very least an above-average power play and many times one of the deadliest in the League. Right now though they are disjointed and even allowing shorthanded opportunities at an alarming rate. If this fortunate break in the schedule doesn’t help remediate the power play, I’m not sure anything will.

Parallel to the Penguins and the Devils in COVID-related issues are the Buffalo Sabres, whose two games this week against the Islanders (including last night’s) were postponed as the League struggled to do contact tracing between the Sabres and the Devils, as both teams played on Sunday despite increasing numbers of Devils being held out due to COVID precautions. Thus far the League has postponed eighteen games since the season began, and it appears that many players are not at all concerned about mitigating risk. At least the teams and the League seem to be taking this seriously!

Odds and ends of the NHL:

  • The Penguins have the fifth-worst regulation record in the League. You don’t want to know who’s worse because they’re all bad teams.
  • The only team left without a regulation loss is *drumroll*…the Florida Panthers!(??) By points percentage, they have the best record in the League. They are powered by the kind of Horny-ness that we used to see in Pittsburgh. 🙁
  • Connor McDavid is scoring two points per game right now. Linemate Leon Draisatl is not far behind him!