The Jack Adams Award Goes To…

Everyone on Twitter has been recently trying to argue as to why (not) Kris Letang should win the Norris Trophy.  I have also seen many tweets and polls discussing the argument of Crosby vs. Kane in the Hart Trophy race.  However, I think there is someone we are all forgetting about that’s been behind the recent surges of Crosby and Letang…

His name is Mike Sullivan.

Mike Sullivan should absolutely be a candidate to win the Jack Adams, which is given to the coach “adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.”  Actually, I retract my previous statement.  He should not be considered to win the Jack Adam’s Award.  He should win the Jack Adams Award.

angry sully.jpg

Since Sullivan took over, the Penguins have posted 31-15-5 record, which includes their recent 12-1 stretch in their past 13 games.  Take away the 0-4 skid the Penguins hit when Sullivan initially took over, and the Penguins have a 31-11-5 record under Sullivan.

However, the Penguins’ record is not, by any means, the only stat one should look at when considering a coach for such a high-honor award.

Jason Mackey of DKPittsburghSports wrote a fantastic article about Sullivan taking over behind the bench for the Penguins.  If you are a subscriber to DKPittsburghSports, you can read his article here:

http://dkpittsburghsports.com/2016/04/01/sullivan-knew-it-was-time-to-be-his-own-man/

If not, I highly recommend you subscribe.  Either way, I want to mention some of the points that he touches on in this piece that I found interesting and notable.

First of all, Sullivan had a chance to leave Wilkes-Barre early in the season and take over as the assistant coach of the struggling Blue Jackets under John Tortorella, who he has worked with in the past.  Sullivan respectfully declined, saying that he believed he could be a successful head coach and wanted to wait for the opportunity.  Later, as we all know, he would take over behind the Penguins bench for the Penguins’ Mike Johnston.

Part of the Penguins’ failure to produce a win in Sullivan’s first 4 games behind the bench was that the bench was dead.  Sullivan said “I didn’t think we had any juice[.] I thought there was a lot of deer-in-the-headlights looks.”  Sullivan knew there needed to be a change, and it needed to happen fast.  He is all about passion, and always will be:

“I’m a strong believer that the essence of this game is in the passion that players bring to the game,” Sullivan said. “I like a bench that brings emotion because that’s an indication that they’re all in. When we have 20 players who don’t show any sort of emotion or reaction to what’s going on out there, that’s concerning for me.”

Clearly, he has brought this idea of emotion and passion not only to the players, but the fans as well.

I’ll be honest, my friends and I always used to talk about how the atmosphere in Consol Energy Center was dull, and how it just never felt the same as it did in Mellon, especially during the 08-09 season when the Penguins won the Cup.

Sullivan is making me eat my own words.

Even watching the games on TV, I can just feel the energy from the crowd.  In addition, being at the games, wow.  That’s all I can say is wow.  Although I was not at the 6-2 demolition of the Flyers yesterday, I can tell you that I heard that there were plenty of “Go home Flyers!” chants, which have been seldom chanted since the Penguins moved to Consol.

But hey, the Penguins couldn’t beat the Flyers in Consol, but it sure looks like they can now.  The Penguins are 3-0 against the Flyers this season, 2-0 at home, after not beating them at all in the previous 2 seasons.

Consol Energy Center is “turning its power on” as of recently, and I cannot wait to see what it will be like this year in the playoffs.

So, Mike Sullivan has brought energy, passion, and a pretty darn solid record to go with it.  Is that all?  Of course not.

The Penguins in recent years have not only struggled against the Flyers, but against the Metropolitan Division in general.

Last year, the Penguins played NYR, WSH, CBJ, PHI, and CAR 4 times.  They only beat NYR, WASH, and CBJ once in 4 tries, did not beat Philly at all, and only beat a lowly Carolina Hurricanes team twice.  They played NYI and NJD 5 times each, while only beating the Islanders once and the Devils thrice.  They would finish 9-17-4.

Meanwhile, the Penguins just recently put up 9 wins against the Metropolitan Division in the month of March.  Under Sullivan, the Penguins this year are 17-6-1.  They are 3-1 against NYR, NYI, and CAR, 3-0 against PHI, 1-2 against the Capitals (although the one of those games was the 4-1 loss in Sullivan’s first game behind the bench), 2-1 against NJD, and 2-0 against CBJ.

If not for the Penguins stellar play in the division, they would not be where they are in the standings…

Oh yeah, the standings.  Almost forgot to mention that…

When Sullivan took over, the Penguins were in 9th place in the Eastern Conference, and currently sitting outside of the 2 wild card spots.  The Penguins are now the 2nd best team in the East behind only the Capitals, and 4th best in the NHL overall.  The currently sit 2nd in the division, and their magic number is 4 (which decreases for every point the Penguins get and every point the Rangers do NOT get).

Did anyone have the Penguins in 2nd in the Metro after that 0-4 stretch when Sullivan took over?  Well, besides me, probably not a lot of people.

Then finally, there are the stats to back up the Penguins’ play.

Without listing specific goals, assists, points, etc…

  • Sidney Crosby went from being a washed up player who may as well step down as the number 2 center to Malkin and adopt a more defensive style to the 3rd best in points in the NHL with a decent chance to win the Hart Trophy.
  • Kris Letang went from having a horrendous beginning of the season to looking like a legitimate Norris Trophy candidate.  Although he probably will not win, being that he has not been consistent throughout the WHOLE year, he still will receive recognition.
  • Hornqvist went from being invisible to his normal self parked in front of the net.  He now has 3 goals in as many games.
  • Kessel has gone from “what a washed up nobody, he can’t even hit a wide open net” to “legitimate sniper/goal-scorer” in a matter of weeks.

None of these players, as well as many others that I have not listed, do not turn around as radically as they did without benefiting from Mike Sullivan’s system.

Also, do you all remember that Penguins offense that wasn’t producing earlier in the year?  That one that was 27th in the NHL is goals for when Sullivan took over?  Well, since Sullivan took over, the Penguins just happen to LEAD the NHL in goals for with 165, good for 3.236 goals/game.  Overall, the Penguins are 3rd in the NHL in goals for.

Yeah, from 27th to 3rd.  That’s not coincidence.

The Penguins also rank 1st in the NHL in Corsi for % (54.6) in all situations since Sullivan’s take-over.  Simply put, Corsi essentially is a possession metric, as I have referred to in past articles.  This means that the Penguins are the BEST possession team in hockey since Sullivan took over.  They also rank 1st in the NHL in Fenwick % (55.2), which is another one of those possession metrics.

The Penguins not only lead the NHL in shots on goal during Sullivan’s tenure, but they also rank 1st in shots on goal for %.  This basically means that the Penguins have the best ratio of shots for to shots against of any team in the NHL.

Finally, do you all remember last year, and even earlier this year, when the Penguins would find themselves trailing by even just 1 goal, and you just knew it was over?  Heck, if the other team went up 2, you may as well have just shut the TV off.  Not any more…

The Penguins rank 1st in the NHL in the following categories when leading by 2 goals: Fenwick % (67.6), Corsi for % (66.8), high-danger scoring chances for % (68.0), high-scoring chances differential (+37), and % of offensive vs. defensive zone faceoffs (67.9).

The Penguins have turned this season around.  Dare I say, they started from the bottom…now they’re here.

Oh, sorry, I forgot to mention that the Penguins haven’t had the likes of Rust, Fleury, Malkin, and others in the lineup in recent games, and yet they’re still dominating teams.

None of this happens without Mike Sullivan behind the bench.  He deserves way more than just credit or a high-5.  This guy deserves a Jack Adams.

Plus, who knows how far the Penguins will make it in the playoffs.  I’d be pretty scared to play them right now…

 

 

The Jack Adams Award Goes To…

Don’t Let The Record Fool You…

johnston v sullivan

At of this point in the Pittsburgh Penguins season, they have played 56 games.  Exactly 28 of those games were played under Mike Johnston, and exactly 28 of them have been played under Mike Sullivan.  This is the perfect chance to begin comparing the 2 coaches.

I have been clear from the start of Sullivan’s debut: he was, and still is, the better coach even though the Penguins started 0-4 with him behind the bench.

So, who is the better coach for the Penguins?  Well, I’ve done enough trying to convince you all with what I see and what I say, but sometimes that isn’t enough.  It takes more than that some times, and this time, I’m gonna go there.  Let’s start looking at the stats, because we all know that stats do not lie.  Let’s break it down:

  • Record
    • Johnston: 15-10-3 with 33 points
    • Sullivan: 14-9-5 with 33 points
      • I understand it is extremely easy to look at the record of 2 coaches to compare them, because the record is the stat that matters.  In this case, both coaches produced an identical amount of points (33) in 28 games, which would put them both on a pace of about 97 points in an 82 game season.  So basically the Penguins now are just a little more exciting, but they’re the same right?  WRONG!  The biggest stat that favors Sullivan in this case is man games lost.  The Penguins only suffered 54 man games lost under Johnston.  The only significant injury was to Eric Fehr, who everyone knew would not start the season with the Penguins due to an elbow injury.  Under Sullivan, they have had 109 man games lost, including injuries to Bonino, Fehr, and Malkin long-term.  In addition, in Sullivan’s last 14 games, the Penguins are 9-3-2, good for 20 points and on pace for 118 points in an 82 game season.  Johnston in his last 14 was 6-5-3, good for 15 points and only 88 in an 82 game season.  In Johnston’s argument, Sullivan got to work with Daley as opposed to Scuderi, which definitely helped the offense.  Also, although Rutherford also traded Perron and Clendening for Hagelin, he has not been doing much more than Perron, so I do not see this as a notable difference.
    • Advantage: Sullivan, by a hair
  • Power Play
    • Johnston: 15 of 96 (15.7%)
    • Sullivan: 20 of 85 (23.6%)
      • Sullivan’s Penguins not only have the PP clicking, but it has scored 5 more goals than Johnston’s Penguins in 11 fewer opportunities.  To give you an idea on how big that increase is, a 15.6% PP in the NHL right now would rank 28th of 30 teams.  On the other hand, the 23.6% PP would have the Penguins tied for 1st in the NHL with the Washington Capitals. 1st!!
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Penalty Kill
    • Johnston: 80 of 95 (84.3%)
    • Sullivan: 70 of 83 (84.4%)
      • Luckily for the Penguins, the PK has remained a constant.  It is currently 4th in the NHL, and it was right around there when Johnston was fired.  Despite Sullivan’s Penguins technically having a .1% better PK, this one is pretty even.  Johnston did not have Fehr, a great PK guy, for the first month of the season.  That being said, Sullivan has also had to deal with injuries to Fehr and Bonino, both solid PK guys.
    • Advantage: none
  • Goals for/Goals for per game
    • Johnston: 66 goals for/2.358 goals for per game
    • Sullivan: 80 goals/2.858 goals for per game
      • Clearly, the advantage goes to Sullivan here.  He has really opened things up as head coach of the Penguins.  The stars are producing the way they should, and the Penguins are beginning to score goals like everyone thought they would at the beginning of the season.  Sullivan has really helped the Penguins establish an identity, and by goodness it seems to be working.  In the NHL right now, Sullivan’s Penguins would rank 6th in goals for per game (despite some significant injuries), while Johnston’s would rank 28th, keeping in mind he had Crosby, Malkin, and Letang healthy for almost every game.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Goals against/Goals against per game
    • Johnston: 65 goals against/2.322 goals against per game
    • Sullivan: 75 goals against/2.679 goals against per game
      • This is one stat that absolutely does lie in Johnston’s favor.  He had them playing a very defensive-style 200 foot hockey game, and this led to keeping teams in check.  Also, Fleury was playing out of his mind early in the season (more on that later).  Although I am not advocating for the fact that Sullivan’s Penguins are allowing 2.679 goals against per game,  which would rank them 18th in the NHL, they are playing how the Penguins should be playing.  This team is built to win 4-3 or 5-4 hockey games with their offense, not 2-1 hockey games with their defense.  Their defense is okay but it isn’t anything special.  Johnston wins this category for sure, but Sullivan’s style will naturally lead to this number being higher than Johnston’s.  But note that despite the increase in goals against per game, Sullivan’s Penguins are scoring .179 more goals than the opponent per game, while Johnston’s were only scoring .036 more goals than the opponent.  My point here is that whether the final score is 5-4 or 2-1, it still goes down as a win if the Penguins score more goals than the opponent, which has been the case more evidently under Sullivan than Johnston.
    • Advantage: Johnston
  • Record when trailing after 1
    • Johnston: 2-6-2
    • Sullivan: 4-7-1
      • In today’s NHL, this stat will never necessarily be a great one, but Sullivan’s Penguins have been better trailing after 1.  Johnston’s Penguins put up 6 points in 10 chances (.6 points/game), whereas Sullivan’s Penguins put up 9 points in 12 chances (.75 points/game).  This stat obviously hurt Johnston because the Penguins were not scoring goals during his time with the Penguins (for the most part).  So when they found themselves in a hole, it was harder to dig out of.  That being said, Sullivan has gotten the scoring going, and has led them to a better record in this regard.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Record when trailing after 2
    • Johnston: 1-9-1
    • Sullivan: 3-7-3
      • Once again, this stat favors Sullivan.  His team has been much more resilient than Johnston’s Penguins, who had a very hard time coming back in games.  If I remember correctly, they were something along the lines of 0-19-2 in this category last year.  Again, although 3-7-3 (9 points in 13 games, good for .693 points per game) may not look great, considering the situation, this is actually quite an incredible accomplishment, especially in today’s NHL where scoring is generally down across the entire league.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Record when trailing by 2 at any given point
    • Johnston: 0-7-1
    • Sullivan: 4-7-3
      • I want to clear up that I did NOT count games for either coach when the Penguins were down 1 goal and then an empty net was scored to make the deficit 2, because counting these type of games depletes the point in the statistic.  Anyways, once again, advantage Sullivan.  Johnston’s Penguins were often down and out if they as simply as allowed the first goal of a game.  If the Penguins allowed the first 2 of a game or trailed by 2 at some point, the game was over.  Sullivan’s Penguins are just different.  As I mentioned earlier, they have found resilience, and hold a 4-7-3 (11 points in 14 games, good for .786 points per game).  Johnston’s Pens did not record a win in this scenario.  I want to specifically site the 3-2 OT win against Florida about a week or 2 ago.  The Penguins were down 1-0 for almost the entire game, and then the Panthers scored a goal shorthanded mid-way into the 3rd period.  It seemed like it was the dagger into the heart of the Pens, and it WOULD have been under Johnston.  However, even with Geno out of the lineup, the Penguins stormed back in the final 5 minutes, tied the game, and won it into overtime.  letang ot winner.jpgMeanwhile, we were all happy if the Penguins could just get the next goal if they gave up the first one under Johnston, yet alone the first 2.
    • Advantage: Sullivan

Do I even need to keep going???  ….if you’re convinced, you don’t even have to read on.  But I’m not just going to try to pull a few stats that favor Sullivan and just include those, (when in reality, they almost all favor Sullivan), I just want to show you all that they do.  So if you aren’t sold on the guy yet, stay with me, we’re going to look at some individual player stats as well as some advanced hockey statistics such as Corsi, Fenwick, etc (I’ll explain them when we get there).  Anyways, let’s keep the ball rollin…

  • Patric Hornqvist
    • Johnston: 5G-5A-10P, +2 in 28 games
    • Sullivan: 6G-16A-22P, +2 in 28 games
      • Hornqvist’s numbers have more than doubled under Sullivan, and he was a +2 under both coaches (for those that do not know, +/- measures if you are on the ice for a goal (+1)/goal against (-1) with a few exceptions such as goals scored on a PP and goals allowed on the PK).  Under Johnston, he would have been projected for about 15-15-30 in an 82 game season.  Under Sullivan, he would be projected for about 18-47-65.  I do understand a ton of this is because the offense is scoring more goals, but the offense is scoring more goals because of Sullivan.  At least that’s what the stats are saying…
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Chris Kunitz
    • 4G-7A-11P, +4 in 28 games
    • 7G-8A-17P, +18 in 26 games
      • Kunitz’s numbers have not quite doubled, but they have certainly increased, especially his goal-scoring.  Notably, Kunitz’s +/- has been ridiculously good under Sullivan.  So good that he is currently 5th in the entire NHL in +/-, behind only Kuznetsov, Toffoli, Kane, and Kopitar.  Great to see Kunitz looking slightly more like the Kunitz of a few years ago.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Kris Letang
    • 1G-13A-14P, -12 in 25 games
    • 8G-19A-27P, +4 in 21 games
      • At the beginning of the season, I was wondering what had happened to Kris Letang.  I thought for sure he would be a top 5 candidate to win the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable defenseman, and meanwhile, early on it seemed like he was lucky to play in a top 6 role.  Letang put up a horrendous -12 and scored only 1 goal in 25 games.  Although defenseman do not score all that often, a guy of Letang’s caliber should have more than a goal through 25 games.  This showed under Sullivan, where he is averaging more than a point per game and has 8 goals in 4 fewer games while posting a +4.  He has been looking much more like the Norris candidate Letang that I expected to see at the beginning of the year.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Sidney Crosby
    • 6G-13A-19P, -6 in 28 games
    • 19G-17A-36P, +9 in 27 games
      • It’s no coincidence that Sidney Crosby has become vintage Sid again, producing at a ridiculous 1.334 points/game clip, which is surprisingly just above his career average of 1.331 points/game.  He is benefiting from Sullivan’s system.  Sullivan’s focus is to let the stats do what they do best and score/possess the puck, which opens up the game for the Penguins.  When things open up, Sid is the best in the business and he has shown that with recent play.  Johnston had Sid playing a 200 foot game and had him focusing entirely too much on defense.  His defensive metrics spiked last year because of this.  I believe that although Sid’s production was way down under Johnston, the process he went through made him more aware/responsible in his own end and made him a better player.  That being said, under Sullivan, he has found his offensive touch again, but is still showing signs of good defense with his +9 as opposed to his -6 under Johnston.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Marc-Andre Fleury/Backups
    • Johnston: 2.25 goals against average/.929 save percentage
    • Sullivan: 2.5 goals against average/.916 save percentage
      • Clearly Fleury and his backups had the better statistics under Johnston, and I think this is partially due to 2 things: 1) I believe Fleury was in another universe early in the season.  He saw the puck like a beach ball, and I think we all knew he couldn’t keep his stats up as high as he had them.  2) The Penguins were a more defensively structured team under Johnston, and so they had a tendency to favor defense rather than offense, which allowed for the defense to help Fleury out and reduce some high quality chances against.  Under Sullivan, Fleury in particular has a 2.5 GAA and a .914 save percentage.  However, his career averages are a 2.57 GAA and a .912 save percentage.  So really, Fleury has been playing like his “normal self” under Sullivan.  This also shows you how well he was playing in the beginning of the season when  he boasted a 2.2 GAA and a .927 save percentage.  That being said, the goalies stats were better under Johnston.
    • Advantage: Johnston
  • Corsi for %, Fenwick %, shooting %, % of offensive zone faceoffs vs. defensive zone faceoffs, high danger scoring chances for %, high danger scoring differential, NHL rank for each during coaching tenure
    • Johnston: 48.3/22nd, 48.2/25th, 7.7/26th, 49.1/20th, 49.7/15th, -3/15th
    • Sullivan: 54.0/2nd, 53.9/2nd, 8.3/20th, 52.3/9th, 55.1/4th, 70/3rd
      • Corsi: Corsi can be calculated by adding up a teams shots on goal, missed shots, and shots blocked by the opposing team.  Corsi for % is simply just Corsi for divided by the total Corsi registered by both teams in a given game, or in this case, 28 games.  Johnston’s Penguins had a Corsi for % of 48.3, which ranked 22nd in the NHL during his tenure as head coach.   This also means that the Penguins allowed the other team to attempt more shots than them, which normally goes hand in hand with possession, which is why Corsi is such a popular statistic in hockey.  In other words, Johnston’s teams were getting out-possessed in a general sense.  Sullivan’s Penguins, on the other hand, have a Corsi for % of 54.0, which ranks 2nd in the NHL since he took over as head coach.  Pretty impressive turn around, huh?
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • Fenwick: Fenwick is an extremely similar stat to Corsi.  The only difference is that Fenwick does not include shots that get blocked by the opposing team.  Johnston’s Penguins had a Fenwick % of 48.2, which was only 25th in the NHL.  Sullivan’s Penguins rank 2nd in the NHL during his tenure with a Fenwick % of 53.9.  From 25th to 2nd?!  Yeah, that happened.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • Shooting %: Although the Penguins have not been a very good shooting % team all year, they have been better under Sullivan.  The Penguins had a lowly shooting % of 7.7 under Johnston, which ranked 26th.  The Penguins are still only shooting at 8.3% under Sullivan, but the number is still improved.  One big reason I think Johnston’s number was so low is that he preached shot volume, and getting shots early.  When I got to talk to Mark Madden, he brought up the fact that often times players would just through low quality shots on goal just to get the shot volume that Johnston desired, and it was definitely something that I sensed.  That being said, I do not sense that as much from the Penguins under Sullivan, and it has showed by increasing slightly.  Heck, the Penguins are actually averaging MORE shots on goal per game under Sullivan (34.6) than Johnston (30.6).
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • % of offensive zone faceoffs vs. defensive zone faceoffs: I decided to look at this stat because where a team is taking faceoffs is important.  Obviously, you want to be taking draws in the offensive zone to get chances on net, rather than defend them.  This also is a good indicator of offensive production, because if a goalie freezes the puck/deflects it out of play for example, the team will get an offensive zone faceoff as a result of their shooting the puck on net.  That being said, Johnston’s Penguins were at 49.1%, while Sullivan’s Penguins are at 52.3%, ranking them 20th and 9th respectively.  Johnston’s 49.1% also means that the Penguins were taking more defensive than offensive draws, which is not a good thing…
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • High danger scoring chances for %: This stat kind of backs my argument that Johnston’s Penguins would just kind of “shoot” sometimes.  If his team was getting high danger scoring chances, it should show in this stat.  That being said, the team ranked 15th with 49.1%, meaning that the Penguins’ opponents had more high danger scoring chances.  Sullivan’s Penguins are 4th in the NHL in this category with a for percentage of 55.1.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • High Danger scoring chances differential: This stat is similar to the previous one, but this one takes HDC for – HDC against.  Johnston’s Penguins had a differential of -3, which ranked 15th.  Sullivan’s Penguins rank 3rd with a +70 differential.  If a team went from -3 to +6, that is improvement, but to go from -3 to 70?!  That is no coincidence…
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Corsi for %, Fenwick %, shooting %, % of offensive zone faceoffs vs. defensive zone faceoffs, high danger scoring chances for %, high danger scoring differential, NHL rank when down by 1 goal for each during coaching tenure
    • Johnston: 50.2/26th, 50.1/23rd, 8.2/19th, 51.1/22nd, 52.9/14th, 8/12th
    • Sullivan: 56.3/10th, 53.7/16th, 5.9/26th, 55.3/16th, 59.8/4th, 35/3rd
      • Corsi: Johnston’s Penguins did manage to break the 50% barrier in this category with a 50.2% Corsi for when they were down by 1 goal.  That being said, it ranked 26th in the NHL.  Sullivan’s Penguins rank 10th in the NHL with a 56.3% Corsi for when down by 1 goal.  This is positive to see, as it shows that the Penguins are getting more shots to the net than their opponents when they are losing in a game, giving them a better chance at a comeback.
    • Advantage: Sullivan…what else is new?
      • Fenwick: Once again, Johnston’s Penguins remained about the 50% clip with a Fenwick % of 50.1, but it only ranked 26th in the NHL.  Sullivan’s Penguins did not improve dramatically, but they moved up to 16th in the NHL with a Fenwick % of 53.7.  Definitely not the biggest change, but a change that favors Sullivan nonetheless.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • Shooting %: This is one of those random stats that happens to favor Johnston.  The Penguins had a shooting percentage of 8.2 under Johnston when down 1, but even that only ranked 19th.  Sullivan’s Penguins rank 26th in the NHL with a terrible shooting percentage of 5.9.  Both coaches did not really produce a number to brag about, but Johnston has the edge.
    • Advantage: Johnston
      • % of offensive zone faceoffs vs. defensive zone faceoffs:  Once again, Johnston’s Penguins were able to keep this number above 50% at 51.1%,  but it only ranked 22nd in the NHL.  Sullivan’s Penguins increased that number somewhat significantly to 55.3%, but it only ranks 16th in his tenure.  Although the rank did not increase by much, Sullivan’s Penguins absolutely improved here.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • High danger scoring chances for %: Credit to Johnston, the Penguins remained about 50% in this category as well, coming in at a 52.9%, good for 14th in the NHL which is absolutely respectable.  That being said, Sullivan’s Penguins have boasted a high danger scoring chances for % of 59.8, which ranks 4th.  Sorry, Johnston, you were outdone again.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • High Danger scoring chances differential: Johnston kept the Penguins in the positive end of the differential with a +8, meaning that they were generating more high danger scoring chances than their opponent when down by 1.  They ranked 12th which, again, is pretty respectable.  But…sorry Johnston, Sullivan outdid you again.  His Penguins have a differential of +35 when down 1, which ranks them 3rd in the NHL.  Credit to johnston, but Sullivan still improved the Penguins in this category.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Corsi for %, Fenwick %, shooting %, % of offensive zone faceoffs vs. defensive zone faceoffs, high danger scoring chances for %, high danger scoring differential, NHL rank when down by 2 goals for each during coaching tenure
    • Johnston: 54.8/25th, 43.7/24th, 3.9/29th, 54.4/25th, 42.9/28th, -8/28th
    • Sullivan: 61.8/8th, 61.8/5th, 11.9/2nd, 67.2/3rd, 59.2/14th, 9/13th
      • Corsi: Johnston’s Penguins once again put up a Corsi for % of 54.8, which seems pretty respectable.  That being said, it was ranked 25th when down by 2, as the tendency is for teams to kick it up a notch offensively when down by 2.  Sullivan’s Penguins are much better at a 61.8 Corsi for %, which ranks 8th in the NHL, and it shows from all of the comebacks Sullivan’s Penguins have had while down 2 goals.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • Fenwick: In this case, Fenwick tells us a lot about the 2 different teams.  Remember, Femwick is the same thing as Corsi, but without shots that were blocked.  Johnston’s Penguins plummeted down to a 43.7% which ranked 24th in the NHL.  Sullivan’s Penguins, on the other hand, boast a 61.8% Fenwick, which is 5th in the NHL over his coaching tenure.  This tells us that the Penguins under Johnston panicked when down by 2, and simply flung pucks on goal from everywhere that often got blocked.  It’s the only explanation for having a Corsi for % of 54.8 and a Fenwick % of 43.7.  Sullivan’s Penguins, on the other hand, remained constant, meaning that they are getting shots through when down by 2.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • Shooting %: This stat is so simple, and yet so telling about the resiliency of both of these Penguins’ teams.  Johnston’s Penguins had a pitiful 3.9 shooting percentage when down by 2, which ranked 29th of 30 NHL teams.  Sullivan’s Penguins on the other hand boast an incredible 11.9 shooting percentage, good for 2nd in the NHL.  Wow.  Just wow.  I just find that extremely fascinating, I really do.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • % of offensive zone faceoffs vs. defensive zone faceoffs: Johnston’s Penguins once again held what seems like a decent percentage of offensive to defensive zone faceoffs at 54.4%, but it ranked only 25th in the NHL.  Meanwhile, Sullivan’s Penguins are in the offensive zone 2 times out of 3 when down 2, with a 67.2% rate of offensive to defensive zone draws, which ranks 2nd in the NHL.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • High danger scoring chances for %: Johnston’s Penguins had low high danger scoring chances for % of 42.9, which is especially low when a team is down by 2.  This means that when down 2, the other team was getting significantly more high danger scoring chances!  This is a sign of a team shutting down and giving up.  Sullivan’s Penguins on the other hand have a high danger scoring for % of 59.2.  Even this number only ranks 14th, but it is a dramatic improvement, and it statistically shows that the Penguins do not fold over and die under Sullivan
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • High Danger scoring chances differential: Johnston’s Penguins low high danger scoring chances for % led to his team’s differential to be a -8, which ranked 28th in the NHL.  Sullivan’s Penguins kept the differential positive, posting a +9 which ranks them 13th.  Again, a sign of a resilient team.
    • Advantage: Sullivan

For those of you that actually made it all the way through, I really hope that you have come to the realization that Sullivan is not just some coach that is the same as Johnston, or that he is just some fill-in kind of guy…he is the guy for this organization going forward.  That being said, I do not want to make it seem like Sullivan is the Christ.  He has been behind the bench for 28 games and hasn’t produced the greatest record, and I acknowledge that.  All that I wanted to get at is that he really is the guy, and you should feel not good, but great, about him moving forward.

Same record means same coach, right?  WRONG!!!

Just as a side note, all of the stats used in this article were either calculated by hand myself or retrieved from war-on-ice.com.

 

Don’t Let The Record Fool You…

What To Think of Sullivan

SullyMike Sullivan has now been behind the Penguins bench for 10 games now.  The Penguins have a 4-5-1 record under Sullivan, however, they boast a 4-1-1 record in their previous 6 games after their 4 game losing skid when Sullivan was hired.

So, was the Sullivan hire the right move?

Oh my gosh, yes.

I wrote an article after the first game that the Penguins played under Sullivan.  It was a 4-1 loss to the Capitals.  Although they lost that game, and the next 3 after that, I wanted to make a point clear: I believed in Sullivan, and I still do.

If you are a Penguins fan, you need to believe in him, too.

So let’s look at some statistical analysis here:

First, the Penguins are starting to score again.  Although the Penguins are still only averaging 2.4 goals per game under Sullivan (they averaged 2.35 under Johnston this year), they have now scored 5 goals in three of Sullivan’s 10 games behind the bench.  The Penguins only had 1 game in which they scored 5 or more under Johnston this year.

Second, the stars are producing.  This is arguably the most important and most significant difference between Johnston and Sullivan.  Johnston was extremely structured in his coaching from what I have read through multiple sources.  He was very particular about guys playing a certain way and this, that, and the other.  Sullivan has similar beliefs, but he believes that the superstars are superstars because of their instinctive abilities.

He wants to back of them a little bit and let them do what they do best: score goals.

Although the Penguins have a plethora of great players, I want to look at their 4 elite skaters: Kessel, Letang, Malkin, and Crosby, and break them down one guy at a time.

Under Johnston this year…

  • Kessel played 28 games, racking up 17 points (9 G – 8A), which is good for approximately .608 points per game and .321 goals per game
  • Letang played 25 games, tallying 14 points (1G – 13A), which gave him .56 points per game and .04 goals per game
  • Malkin played 28 games, leading the Penguins with 26 points (13G – 13A), which gave him .929 points per game and .464 goals for per game
  • Crosby played 28 games and tallied only 19 points (6G – 13A) which gave him .679 points per game and .214 goals per game

Under Sullivan this year…

  • Kessel’s numbers have dropped slightly, but I believe this is because he played a ton of time on the third line, which gave him less ice time.  That being said, in 10 games under Sullivan, Kessel has 5 points (3G – 2A), which gives him a .5 points per game and .3 goals per game.  This will improve, however, as Kessel has been reunited with Malkin
  • Letang has only played 4 games under Sullivan, but thus far has 8 points (2G – 6A) which is good for 2 points per game and .5 goals per game.  By no means will Letang keep that kind of pace up, but he looks more confident on the ice and is beginning to shoot the puck more on the power play and in general
  • Even Malkin’s numbers have increased, despite his dominant performances early in the season.  In 10 games Malkin has 11 points (5G – 6A), which gives him 1.1 points per game and .5 goals per game
  • Crosby has by far seen the most improvement under Sullivan, and thank goodness, because the Penguins need him to play like what he is: the best player in the world.  In 9 games, Crosby has 10 points (5G – 5A), which gives him about 1.1 points per game and .55 goals per game

Stats speak for themselves. Although it may be a small sample size, the stars are really beginning to find their stride under Sullivan, and if they continue to do so, look out NHL.

Third, the power play is clicking.  They are shooting the puck, creating movement, screening the goalie…you name it.  The Penguins are finally beginning to have a power play that LOOKS like it should.  The Penguins power play was darn near last in the league, clicking at only 15.6% (15 of 96).

In only 10 games under Sullivan, the power play has been clicking at a 27.3% rate (9 of 33), which brought the Penguins all the way up to 19th in the league in that department.  AND that includes an 0 for 10 stretch in Sullivan’s first 3 games before he even had a practice with the team.  Take away that 0 for 10 stretch, and the Penguins are at a ridiculous 39.1% clip (9 of 23).

I know it’s hard sometimes, but believe in these Penguins.  Believe in Sullivan.

Just a few side notes:

The Penguins play a home-and-home against the Balckhawks on back-to-back nights (Tuesday and Wednesday).  This should tell us a lot about how this team stands as it is right now.

Also, just because I am a huge fan, Daniel Sprong now has 6 goals and 1 assist in 4 games since behind shipped back to juniors.  He may not play for the Pens this year, but he is going to be special.

 

 

What To Think of Sullivan

Have Faith in Sullivan’s Penguins

Sullivan
The Penguins fell to the Capitals last night, 4-1, at Consol Energy Center in Sullivan’s Penguins coaching debut.  The score may not look impressive, but I am here to tell you to have faith in Sullivan’s Penguins.

First of all, the Penguins did what Sullivan wanted them to do.  They played towards their strengths: skill and speed.  They had more jump and more passion to their game.  It was clearly visible, and this guy has been here all of 2 days.

For those of you that did not watch the game, the first shift for the Penguins was arguably the best shift I have seen from a Penguins line in the last 2 years.  They did not score, but had 2 or 3 quality chances, and they played like they wanted the puck.  They played like they wanted to score.

Being that the Penguins had a few chances of their own, they gave up a few chances to the Capitals, who just seemed to capitalize (no pun intended) on their chances more than the Penguins unfortunately.

That being said, the Penguins registered 45 shots on goal, which is a season high.  Holtby played out of his mind (he leads the NHL in GAA), but if the Penguins can play like they did last night, they are going to start winning hockey games.

I also want to add that although the Penguins gave up their fair share of chances, so did Johnston’s Penguins.  Except Johnston’s Penguins had no jump, no energy, and no desire for the puck.  Sullivan’s Penguins had numerous scoring opportunities, and had some bounces gone the Penguins way, the game may have been different.

Whether the Penguins won 7-1 or lost 4-1, it is just 1 game, so either way, we can’t make too much of this.  But, all I am telling you is to have faith.  Seriously.

I also want to bring up that Sullivan has been here a very short time, and lost to a Capitals team that is now first in the Eastern Conference and atop the Metropolitan Division.  Considering that Bylsma’s first game behind the bench for the Pens was a shootout loss against, at the time, a lowly New York Islanders team, I am not concerned with the result of this one game.

On top of Sullivan being behind the new guy behind the bench, there is a ton of new Penguins news that I would like to enlighten you all about that has happened in the past 24 hours.  Some bad, some good.

Beau Bennett out 4-6 weeks: Beau Bennett was crushed into the boards by Capitals forward TJ Oshie.  It was a questionable hit, but no penalty was called.  Bennett got up gingerly holding his shoulder and immediately went to the locker room.  I would assume that he broke his collar bone after going shoulder first into the boards.

I really do feel for Beau Bennett.  He must be so frustrated being that he always gets hurt.  However, this is also why a guy like him should remain as a 3rd or 4th line guy, regardless of his skill.  If he is injury prone, letting him develop chemistry with guys on a top line is pointless.  Let other plays who are not injury prone to be put into that role.  When Bennett does come back, I would keep him on the 3rd or 4th line because of his injury history.

Since Bennett is out for 4-6 weeks, this means that more than likely either Hornqvist or Sprong will get a chance with Crosby on the top line.  Although I would love to see Sprong with Crosby on a consistent basis (we saw a little bit of it last night), I would think Hornqvist will move up being that he has played with Sid before.  That being said, I think Sprong actually benefits more from the system and would perform better on this line with Sid.  That’s just my thought…

Fleury concussed: Fleury said he did not feel right after the game and was tested for a concussion today.  The results, unfortunately, came back positive, and he will like be out 1-2 weeks. Zatkoff will start tomorrow and Matt Murray was recalled to be his backup.

Sullivan will have the ability to control the goalie rotation. I would like to think, and hope, that Matt Murray is the starter in general while Fleury is out. But that will be up to Sullivan. We’ll find out later this week.

Pens trade Scuderi for Daley: Jim Rutherford, I have one question for you: HOW?!  Trevor Daley (33) is an offensive defenseman who was on the Blackhawks for a short stint, after being sent there as part of the Patrick Sharp deal between Dallas and Chicago.  Last year, Daley had 16 goals as a defenseman!  That is impressive, and something the Penguins need.

They end up trading Scuderi, who has been, to put it lightly, pretty bad with the Penguins.  The Pens did maintain 1/3 of his contract, but the fact that Rutherford got Daley out of this deal…wow.

One main reason he was able to make it was that apparently Daley did not fit into the Blackhawks’ system.  They felt Scuderi would be a better fit for them, and similarly, Daley would be a better fit for the Pens.

I feel the Pens definitely won this trade, but I guess time will tell…  Daley will wear #6 and I would expect him to be in the lineup against Boston tomorrow night.

Sullivan mixes up lines at practice: Today, the Penguins announced they have recalled Connor Sheary and Kevin Porter from the AHL. I would like to think Sheary plays tomorrow, since he has more potential offensively. But again, that’s up to Sullivan.

Sullivan really mixed up the lines at practice, going with the following line combos:

Kunitz – Crosby – Perron
Plotnikov – Malkin – Hornqvist
Kessel – Fehr – Sprong
Cullen – Bonino

The biggest changes here are that Kessel moves to the third line, Perron gets bumped up to 1st line, and Plotnikov goes back with Malkin. Sullivan wants to find some lines that mesh, so let’s hope this works.

By the way, I want to note that I actually like Kessel on the 3rd line. In Toronto he played with Bozak and had great success. Bozak is good, but he is no superstar. I think this allows Kessel to really focus on his game since he is not playing with a Crosby or Malkin. Heck, it worked in Toronto.
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Anyways, that’s all I’ve got for now!  Thanks for those who continue to read my blog, as always!  My next blog will be recapping and talking about my impressions from the game against Boston tomorrow at 8 pm.  Hopefully the article will be up by midnight.

 

Have Faith in Sullivan’s Penguins

Johnston, Agnew Out. Sullivan, Martin In.

JohnstonI want to begin this article by apologizing to everyone who actually keeps up with my blog.  I know it may not be many, but I have not been posting nearly as much as I would like.

For me, I got late into the semester and just found that I was so busy and did not have time to write.

But I assure you, recap articles are coming back, a Q and A will be coming up soon, and I’ll be getting back on track now that finals (for the most part) are over.

Anyways, let’s move onto the news of the day: Mike Johnston (and Gary Agnew for that matter) are finally gone.  It surprisingly took the Rutherford 28 games to make the move.   The Penguins are  currently 15-10-3 and not in the playoff picture, keeping in mind that this includes a stretch where they went 9-1 in a 10 game span.  Take those 10 games away, and the Penguins are 6-9-3.

Under Johnston, the Penguins ranked (oh what fun it is to use past tense when talking about Johnston) 27th in goals for per game (2.36), 27th on the power play (15.6%), 6th in goals against (2.32), and 19th in Corsi for percentage (48.3%).  For those of you that do not know, Corsi for percentage basically tells you how often your team has possession of the puck.

The only reason the goals against isn’t also horrendous is because of the guy playing the role of brick wall.  Because it certainly is not the talent of the defensive corps.  That being said, I want to once again acknowledge the pairing of Dumoulin and Lovejoy.  These 2 continue to be the shutdown pair night in and night out, so props to these 2 guys.

But without Fleury, the goals against would be probably right around that 27th range, considering the Penguins are allowing the 3rd most shots against per game at 31.8.  Letang has not been nearly what anyone expected him to be this year, many even thought he could win a Norris including myself but that is not going to happen.  Cole has been awful as of late.  Scuderi shouldn’t be in the NHL…

Anyways, Fleury has been doing everything he can to help this team win.  And honestly, he is a big reason as to why Mike Johnston’s firing did not happen earlier, as he was able to help the Penguins maintain a somewhat respectable record.

Heck, Evgeni Malkin kept Johnston behind the bench for a few more games after that ridiculous run he had after calling out the team against New Jersey.

Even Beau Bennett may have gave Johnston one more game, as he helped the Penguins mount a comeback 2 games ago against the Avalanche while scoring 2 goals in the 3rd period.

All of that being said, Johnston is finally gone.  An early Christmas present.  Thanks Santa.

I do want to say this:  Johnston is not a terrible coach.  The players respected him for the most part, according to GMJR’s interview today, and his philosophy was not bad.  His problem was that he was with the wrong team.

After a 2-1 loss against the Ducks, he said that the Penguins need to tighten up defensively….

You’re kidding right?  A team with Crosby, Malkin, Kessel and co. need to tighten up defensively after losing 2-1?  Give me a break… They need to start scoring goals is what they need to do.

Sullivan

So who was hired?  Mike Sullivan.  Who is he?  Oh, you know, the guy who has Wilkes-Barre at a 18-5 record with one of the top offenses (3rd) in the AHL.  I have faith Sullivan can be that guy to really bring a spark to this offense.  Plus, who remembers last time the Penguins made a mid-season coaching change?

2009 cup

Yeah, that.

So now that you are up to speed, I want to share some of my personal opinions on what Sullivan can do to really get this team rolling.

1. Let the stars play their game

From my understanding based off of what I have read from multiple sources, Johnston was extremely structured and wanted his players to play a certain way.  He really was a junior coach.  These coaches tend to want more structure and need to be more of a mentor to the younger hockey players.  In the NHL, the coach should not be all that influential.  Let the stars play their game.

I watched an interview with Sullivan, and he was quoted saying this:

“I’ve always been a believer that you have to allow your top players the latitude to make plays and act on their instincts.  There’s a fine line as a coach between making sure you stay out of the way in certain circumstances but you provide the necessary structure so that you don’t become a high risk team.”

I love this.  Guys like Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel need to cut loose and start doing what they’re getting paid to do: score.  If Sullivan words are true, I’m excited to see what could happen to this offense.

2. Young guns

I just find it hilarious that in Johnston’s last game, after being told multiple times by GMJR to play Clendening/Sprong, he plays Scuderi over Clendening when the Penguins needed a puck moving defenseman on the back end against the Kings, and sits Sprong for the last 31 minutes of the game because he pinched in the offensive zone…..

31 minutes?!  Yeah, for pinching in the offensive zone.

In that case, may as well sit Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, and every other offensive minded forward because they are not responsible enough defensively.  And to Sprong’s credit, I saw him make multiple, solid defensive plays in the Penguins’ defensive zone.

He’s called a forward, Mike.  Let him play his game and do the thing that you apparently didn’t want this team to do: score.

My point?  Give these young guys a shot, and sit Scuderi…unless you REALLY have to play him…

3. Power play

This may possibly be one of the biggest expectations after the coaching change.  Although the power play was kicking it up a little bit as of late, they still rank 27th in the NHL which is just absurd considering their offensive talent.

The power play should easily be top 5, at least on paper.  They need to have a shot first mentality, and plenty of traffic around the net.  Heck, watch Malkin’s goal he scored last night when the Penguins had a man advantage because they pulled their goalie.  David Perron literally threw a puck on net with traffic in front, and Malkin knocked the puck home past Quick to tie the game late, 2-2.

The power play production will lead to more goals, which can only play to the Penguins’ favor.

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If I were Mike Sullivan, here would be my line combinations for Monday night against Ovechkin and the Caps:

Forwards:

Kunitz – Crosby – Bennett

Perron – Malkin – Kessel

Sprong – Bonino – Hornqvist

Plotnikov – Cullen – Fehr

Defense:

Dumoulin – Lovejoy

Maatta – Warsofsky

Clendening – Cole/Scuderi

I kept the first 2 lines the same that they have been, but these lines could very well change.  Kessel has not been getting puck luck, but has looked good offensively the past few games.

I moved Sprong to the third line because he needs to be given a chance.  He should be playing 10-15 minutes per night, and he only has until the 40th game, because after this the coaches and GM can still send him back to juniors.  They need to give him a chance to see what they really have in Sprong, because if he can increase the scoring, then he needs to stay.  I wouldn’t even be at all opposed to giving him a shot with Crosby/Malkin, but I don’t think it will happen realistically.

Also, I did not put Letang in the lineup because he is reportedly out around 2 weeks with an upper body injury.  I put Warsofsky with Maatta because he has actually silently surprised me in his short stint with the Penguins.  He should be playing in every game until he shows he should not be.

Clendening should play, and the scratch could be Scuderi or Cole.  In this case, I would play Cole even though he has been terrible as of late, because Scuderi is just absolutely pathetic at this point.  Oh by the way, he makes $3.875 million.  Yikes.

Can the Penguins start to turn this season around?  I think they can.  If Sullivan can get this offense clicking how it should, I think this team can be dangerous.  It just feels like there is a ticking bomb waiting to go off.  Here is to hoping it happens soon…

The Penguins, as mentioned earlier, are currently 15-10-3, one point out of the playoff picture.  The hill they have to climb is not too steep, but they still need to begin improving.

It starts Monday against Washington, who currently leads the Metropolitan Division with 40 points.

I’ll have an article up on Monday night recapping the Penguins vs. Caps game, and giving my impressions on Sullivan behind the bench.  Let’s Go Pens.

Johnston, Agnew Out. Sullivan, Martin In.