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Bob Grove’s Penguins Notebook

Grover’s Look at the Penguins and the NHL: Sidney Crosby can’t stop scoring, the Devils look to Jacques Lemaire for salvation, and the Pens’ struggles on the power play may be for the reasons you think.

Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby had put together a seven-game scoring streak, fairly pedestrian stuff for him, when Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos delivered a hat trick in Philadelphia Nov. 18 that not only gave the Lightning a crazy 8-7 victory but also turned up the talk about Stamkos’ ability to reach hockey’s magical 50 goals-in-50 games plateau. He had 19 goals in 19 games at the time.
The following night, Crosby had one goal and four points in a 5-4 win over Carolina. He had a goal the following game against Florida, and five days later began a six-game spree in which he scored 11 goals to rocket past Stamkos for the NHL scoring lead – and goal-scoring lead. The seven-game streak became a 22-game streak, Crosby’s longest ever and matching the longest streak in 17 years in the NHL, and not coincidentally the Penguins won 12 straight games for the second-longest run in team history during that stretch.
All of which swiveled the hockey spotlight back to Crosby and turned up talk about just where he might ultimately reside in the discussion of the game’s greatest players. Those discussions will be ongoing and passionate for years to come, but there is a way to put what Crosby has been doing this season into an historical perspective.
In the first edition of Total Hockey in 1998, Dan Diamond and Associates debuted their “Adjusted Statistics,” which use formulas to account for differences in length of schedule, roster size (when applicable) and scoring environments – the latter based on calculations involving the average number of goals scored in a particular season by all players.  The goal is to “flatten out” factors in the evolution of the game and try to put their numbers on the same plane.
The data from that project was licensed to Sports Reference LLC, whose vice president Justin Kubatko is a Kittanning native who got his bachelor’s in statistics at Grove City College and then a master’s in applied statistics from Ohio State. We asked Kubatko to compare Crosby’s current season with Gretzky’s numbers from 1981-82 (when he scored a career-high 92 goals) and Mario Lemieux’s numbers from 1988-89 (when he scored a career-high 199 points), translating the latter’s numbers into today’s game.
Crosby was on a pace to score 66 goals and 136 points this season. Gretzky’s numbers translated to 62 goals and 145 points in today’s game, while Lemieux’s translated to 65 goals and 154 points. That should keep the discussion going for a while.
The New Jersey Devils kept their coaching vacancy in the family when they hired long-time Devil winger and farm team coach John MacLean to step behind the bench this season. But after they fell to 9-22-2 on the season – last in the 30-team league – the Devils fired MacLean and to no one’s surprise brought back another family member in Jacques Lemaire to replace him.
Lemaire, of course, is in his third stint with the Devils, having led them to the Atlantic Division title last season before being replaced by MacLean after another first-round playoff exit. Lemaire will improve New Jersey’s defensive game, but his arrival puts more pressure squarely on two players: goaltender Martin Brodeur, who has been average lately, and Ilya Kovalchuk, who had just eight goals in 32 games and was a hideous -22.
The Penguins’ power play was ranked just 14th in the NHL as mid-season approached, and it still wasn’t generating many shots. Many believe that’s the problem, but some research put together by PSR suggests otherwise.
Surveying all NHL teams at the quarter pole, we tallied the number of shots they took on the power play and weighed it against their power-play chances to come up with a shots-per-chance figure. It’s true that not all power-play chances are created equally – one lasting two seconds counts the same as one lasting five minutes – but every team has some of those and looking at all teams evens the statistical field.
It turns out that the average number of shots generated by an NHL team during a power-play chance was 1.4 – below what many would assume. The Penguins were below that at 1.33 shots-per-chance, but here’s the really interesting part: of the seven worst power plays in the league at that time, five were among the top 10 teams in shots generated per chance; of the top five power plays in the league at that time, none were in the top 14 in shots produced.
So it seems logical to assume that the quality of the power-play shot is the difference, and we have no way of measuring that. Do we?

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