Gameday 39: Oughta but Can’t

The Penguins are back in action tonight when they welcome the Ottawa Senators back to the Burgh. Thanks to the language of the most recently signed CBA, most NHL teams had last week off, except for the Senators who have been on vacation since Kunitz ended them.

Ernest Hemingway is credited for writing the saddest 6-word story ever. The happiest 6-word story was created by Doc Emrick, “Crosby on Kunitz, a shot scores.”

The Senators finished that season in 2nd place in the Atlantic division with a 44-28-10 record in Guy Boucher’s debut season behind the bench. They were one goal away from a Stanley Cup final appearance. In the two full seasons following that fatal night, the Senators went on to win 57 of their next 164 games while losing their franchise defender and firing Boucher toward the end of his third season. The Sens brought in Marc Crawford as relief for Boucher in the final 18 games of the seasons last year, but his 7-10-1 record did not result in an extension.

Ottawa instead searched for fresh blood and hired first time NHL coach DJ Smith during the offseason. Smith has so far carried on the tradition that started with the Kunitz goal, leading the Senators to 16 wins in his first 39 games behind the bench. In his defense, the .474 win percentage would be the highest for the Senators since they were last in the playoffs, though it would not be good enough for a return to the dance.

How have the Senators performed under the 41-year-old coaching virgin? I’m glad you asked. As we see 99% of the time with teams that are playing sub .500 hockey, the Senators are scoring fewer goals than the league average while letting in more. Ottawa enters this game with 10 fewer goals for and 6 more goals against than the 119 league average. Their powerplay is a dismal 11.38% while their penalty kill seems to be their only hot spot, clocking in at an above-average 81.43 kill percentage.

For some comparison, the Penguins have 129 goals and given up 102, both on the proper sides of the league average 119. The Pens are also clicking with a penalty kill success rate of 81%, the league average is 80.27%. As if the Penguins record despite their injuries isn’t enough of a reason to get excited about this team, their powerplay percentage has crept up to 19.27%, just 0.46% off of the league average. The Pens have scored 3 fewer powerplay goals than the league-average, but as the powerplay continues warming up those numbers could quickly flip. This paragraph is essentially a Mike Sullivan for Jack Adams bid.

In case your pensboner isn’t up yet, the Penguins are currently spotting a .658 win percentage. In his first Stanley Cup year with the team Sullivan’s squad had a .657 win percentage. As he closes in on his 200th win behind the Penguins bench (currently at 197), Mike Sullivan is preparing his troops for the long haul yet again.

With the Penguins continuing to play the way they are Sidney Crosby hasn’t been rushed in his recovery, which only benefits the team in the long run. That being said, there haven’t been any updates on either Crosby, Bjugstad, or Schultz at this time. As for the Senators, well, how dare we ever complain about the Penguins defense. According to line rankings based on stats from Corsica Hockey, the Ottawa defensive pairs rank as the 26th, 27th, and 30th “best” 1st, 2nd, and 3rd pairings. How good is Kris Letang? Even with Johnson on his side the Pens top pair comes in as the 11th best in the league (is generally 4th with Dumo). The Riikola-Marino pairing is currently the 7th best 2nd pairing while the Ruhwedel-Pettersson pair comes in as the 6th best 3rd pairing. John Marino is currently ranked as the 3rd best Right Defender in the league, let that sink in.

All of this has been typed up to remind you that the Penguins are really, really good. They are playing a systemic game the way Sullivan designed it, and by sticking with the system they have been able to put together an impressive run despite the injuries. This is the 12th and final game in the month of December for the Pens, who enter it with a 9-2-0 record on the month. The Pens had 8 wins in October and 6 in November.

It’s a Monday, your boss likely forgot how nice he was feeling last week during the holidays and shit is back to being shit. Cheer up buttercup, tonight you get some Penguins hockey, and there isn’t anything better than that.