What We Learned: How the Penguins won the Stanley Cup


(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.)

One of the things to watch in this entire Stanley Cup Final series was how badly the Nashville Predators outshot the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The shot deficits in Games 1 through 4 were of good size. It was tied in Game 5, and only after Pittsburgh opened up a huge lead. Then, finally, in Game 6 — which they won in a 2-0 shutout — they had a very, very narrow edge. And one of the two shots in that narrow margin was into an empty net.

But because things were so, so lopsided early on, one must consider how extreme this kind of performance was. To get outshot by about five shots per game over a six-game series, and win it? That’s only happened one other time in recent memory.

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In the first year after the implementation of the salary cap era, the Carolina Hurricanes basically got run out of the building by the Edmonton Oilers every night. They were outshot 200-164 in seven games, but because their starting goalie got hurt in Game 1, Carolina was able to shoot nearly 12 percent for the entire series and hey, whaddayaknow, Cam Ward stood on his head at the other end.

More of less the same thing happened this time around. The Pens got outshot 174-144 over the course of this Cup Final but scored one extra goal per game (3.2-2.2), and hey, that’ll do it.

You look at that Carolina team and this Pittsburgh team and there aren’t a lot of similarities. Not a ton of superstars on for those Hurricanes, whereas the Penguins have a ton of All-Stars. Perhaps you chalk the Carolina Cup up to the weirdness of the 2005-06 season in general, and this year you just have to say, to some extent, the Penguins got lucky.

Even beyond the insanely lucky bounce Patric Hornqvist got to win the series — receipts are in on the Hornqvist/Neal trade: Pens win — the fact that Pittsburgh shot better than 13 percent, and just steamrolled Pekka Rinne at PPG Paints Arena, has to be categorized as more luck than anything else. They finish the Cup Final with the third-highest all-situations PDO, at 105.7, since the salary cap came into play, behind only Chicago two years ago (107.5!) and Boston in 2011 (107, thanks to Tim Thomas’s .967 save percentage).

Of course, any team that wins the Stanley Cup needs luck to get there, but the Penguins got it and then some. Injuries to crucial players for huge stretches of the playoffs, if not all of them, seemingly didn’t matter. They got down to their seventh defenseman, they got hemmed in by a vicious Nashville forecheck, and still the goals came.

You need elite talent to do that, no doubt. So the fact that Sidney Crosby had seven points in this Cup Final, and Evgeni Malkin had three goals, and Phil Kessel had four points, and Matt Murray had a .930 save percentage, well, the big players stepped up.

But also: Jake Guentzel (Chris Kuntiz Mk. 2) had four goals as well. Conor Sheary had two. Justin Schultz and Brian Dumoulin were the only defensemen who seemed capable of getting the puck up the ice with regularity

Hockey’s a weird sport at all times, but especially so when you’re awarding trophies based on a best-of-seven series. In a candid moment, Mike Sullivan would probably tell you the Penguins didn’t actually do enough to win this series. On the face of it, they did not. But here we are anyway. No one’s “Well actually”-ing the 2006 Cup champs, and no one would do it here and no either.

Look, this is a great Penguins team. You can fall ass-backwards into a Cup once, maybe. Twice in a row, not so much. But look at those stats above: Last year they were a bulldozer, and just put the Sharks in the dustbin for six straight games. This time around, they were the ones getting handled, and everything worked out anyway.

Crosby’s why. Malkin’s why. Kessel’s why. Murray’s why. Sullivan’s why. In fact, looking at the Penguins roster, it’s hard to find someone who didn’t contribute something meaningful in this Cup Final. Matt Cullen was solid on the PK. Ron Hainsey ate 20-plus minutes a night because no one else could. Nick Bonino scored two huge goals before he disappeared into the trainer’s room for the remainder of the series. Carl Hagelin played with his jersey on fire last night.

It’s tempting fate to try to win this way. Just about any Hockey Person will tell you that. Because it’s not just about shots on goal, but also scoring chances (Nashville had nearly 55 percent of them in all situations). Sure, Pittsburgh had a narrow edge in high-danger chances, but it was mainly because Nashville’s power play was an embarrassment for most of the series. There wasn’t anything the Penguins PK units were doing to make Nashville shoot into a pile of bodies from the top of the circle at every available opportunity, but here we are.

Look at that above list of winners again and have a look at what the Red Wings did in two straight Cup Finals to this Penguins franchise. Dominated them, both years. In fact, they even outscored the Penguins when Pittsburgh won the Cup in ’09. But sometimes you just get the bounces.

Unless you’re really interested in digging this stuff up, no one will know or care 10 years from now that the Penguins only put 24 shots on net per game. The whole “They went 37 minutes without a shot in a game they won” thing will disappear in the wind.

First back-to-back Cup winners in the cap era? First since the late-90s Red Wings All-Star teams? Yeah they got badly outshot and this probably shouldn’t have happened this way.

But to quote the guy who scored the Cup-clinching goal, “Ah, [expletive] it.”

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks are 100 percent trading a defenseman. But whomstsoever should it be? (Spoiler: It should be Sami Vatanen.)

Arizona Coyotes: If they can find someone dumb enough to take Mike Smith off their hands, they should absolutely do it. How is this even a question?

Boston Bruins: I don’t know how you can write an article about the Bruins’ defensive “depth” and then say, “Will they protect Kevan Miller or Colin Miller?” Obviously the answer is Colin. Kevan is, like, very bad. What’s hard about this?

Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres want to interview Phil Housley and a couple of Pens assistants before they hire someone, and it’s tough to blame ’em. But also: uhh Darryl Sutter much?

Calgary Flames: Gotta respect Brian Burke going, “[expletive] it, mask off,” and just saying the team will move if the city doesn’t buy it a new rink. Then the team has to be like, “No no, mask on. We’re not evil, we swear!” Amazing. I love this saga. Have fun in Quebec.

Carolina Hurricanes: Eric Tulsky keeps movin’ up in the organization. Tough to blame the ‘Canes for loving what he brings to the table.

Chicago: Chicago basically has to make a trade and rumors say it’ll come real soon. One imagines that the guy they end up moving has a name that rhymes with “Sent Breabrook.”

Colorado Avalanche: I wonder if any bad contracts on the Avs end up looking a lot better once the player gets out of that black hole of an organization. Is Carl Soderberg as bad as he looked last season? I doubt it.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Have to imagine Joonas Korpisalo was basically just like, “Yeah I’m never gonna start for this team” but he also had no options since he’s only 23.

Dallas Stars: If Jamie Benn is actually great again next year, that helps a lot.

Detroit Red Wings: Gordie Howe’s name comes off the Cup next year. Just more evidence the NHL hates the Red Wings and will never ever let them be good again.

Edmonton Oilers: Good lord. Why?

Florida Panthers: Not the most flattering picture of new Panthers coach Bob Boughner here. Hahaha.

Los Angeles Kings: Lots of momentum to this Evander Kane-to-Los Angeles thing at this point. Wonder how much of it is BS.

Minnesota Wild: What do the Bruins have to give up to get Jonas Brodin? Probably something not-really-worth-it, especially given the market for young, already-signed top-four defenders. Taylor Hall trade and all that. And moreover, why would the Bruins stay in Going For It mode? That team, man.

Montreal Canadiens: It unequivocally rules that these are the only headlines around the Canadiens at this point.

Nashville Predators: These guys got straight-up boned. No other way to say it.

New Jersey Devils: Yeah I’d be really surprised if it’s the Panthers who trade for Ilya Kovalchuk.

New York Islanders: Imagine if Colorado were this dumb. The only thing to move Matt Duchene for is picks and prospects. C’mon.

New York Rangers: Turns out no one wants any of the Rangers’ crap defensemen, almost all of whom have bad contracts. Hmm. Weird.

Ottawa Senators: Honestly who cares. Semi-competent backup goalies are a dime a dozen. Mike Condon is fine. So are lots of guys. Whatever.

Philadelphia Flyers: Can’t help but feel like Shayne Gostisbehere left a lot of money on the table long-term. But hey, that contract makes him extremely easy to trade if things go sideways with this club.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Finally, Sidney Crosby is as good as Jonathan Toews.

San Jose Sharks: They’re getting closer to re-signing Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who is very good. Great news for the club.

St. Louis Blues: Mike Yeo is honestly one of those coaches where it’s like, “Seems like he’s fine.” Not sure he’s the guy to get this club over any sort of hump, but he’s not bad. I dunno. Feels like tire-spinning.

Tampa Bay Lightning: If I’m Steve Yzerman I give Vegas a second-round pick and a B prospect to please for the love of god get Ryan Callahan the hell off this team.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs are at the 50 contract limit? That seems not-wise.

Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks may want the No. 1 pick. Give New Jersey the 5, Tanev, and a decent prospect for it.

Vegas Golden Knights: Can I recommend something instead of “going all in?” How about, uhh, don’t?

Washington Capitals: Justin Williams is an American citizen now. Big mistake Justin! Get out while you can!

Winnipeg Jets: Yes, they could.

Play of the Weekend

This is a Stanley Cup-winning goal with 1:35 to go, so that’ll work.

Gold Star Award

Hmm, three Lowell guys get on the same team and that team immediately wins a Stanley Cup? Total coincidence, right? Ha ha ha.

Minus of the Weekend

This is the greatest take in the history of the universe. Difficult to top.

 


Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year

User “Kcoyote3” is after that roadrunner.

To San Jose:

Tavares

To New York: Couture , Dillon, Donskoi, 2018 1st

Signoff

I love you Dr. Zaius!

 

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

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)

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