They ?re 5-4-1 in their last ten games. Blake Comeau and Patric Hornqvist have returned, Beau Bennett is back in the lineup and already seems to be making some contributions. Fleury has been playing well and keeping the Penguins in games.
So everything is going alright for the Penguins, right?
Less than a week ago, most fans of the Penguins had heard the narrative making it across various blogs, radio talk shows, print media, and of course, fan message boards — ?There is something not right about this Penguins team. ? One can look at the record and standings and see the Penguins are currently second in the Metropolitan division, often switching places with the rival New York Islanders. While looking at those same standings, one would also see that the Penguins are 5-4-1 over their last ten after the Capitals game, which while not ideal, is also not quite bottom-feeder material, especially for the middle of February.
Why the panic in the Steel City? More importantly, is it justified?
To start, anyone that has been watching Penguins games consistently over the last two months can tell you that one night the Penguins look like they can hang with the best of the best (see pre-All Star Break game versus the Blackhawks) and another night they look like they ?re trying to do their best impression of this year ?s Buffalo Sabres or Edmonton Oilers (see January 28th game versus the Capitals). Without breaking down into the advanced statistics and various factors influencing the inconsistencies, all one really needs to know is that it ?s frustrating to watch and worrisome for a team that is perennially expected to be a contender.
Currently, the most troubling statistic for Penguins ? fans is by far their record against their own division, the Metropolitan division featuring the Islanders, the Capitals, the Rangers, the Hurricanes, the Flyers, the Devils, and the Blue Jackets. Through 21 games this season, the Penguins hold a record of 7-10-4 against the teams of the Metropolitan. See the record against each team below:
Penguins Record Against the Metropolitan:
- Islanders: 1-2-1 (1 game remaining)
- Flyers: 0-1-1 (2 games remaining)
- Rangers: 1-2-1 (0 games remaining)
- Blue Jackets: 0-0-1 (3 games remaining)
- Hurricanes: 2-1-0 (1 game remaining)
- Capitals: 0-3-0 (1 games remaining)
- Devils: 3-1-0 (1 game remaining)
With 9 games remaining against divisional opponents, the Penguins certainly have their work cut out for them. Out of those 9 remaining games against the 7 Metropolitan division teams, only 2 are against teams the Penguins currently have a winning record against. Within 21 games, the Penguins have only attained 18 out of a possible 40 points, while capitalizing on their stellar cross-conference play to keep them near the top of the Eastern Conference. Within the Eastern Conference, the Penguins have a record of 21 wins, 12 losses, and 7 OT losses, for a total of 49 points in 40 games as of February 18th.
The Eastern Conference standings as of 2/18/2015:
If history is any indicator, the Penguins may be in trouble. Yes, it is likely, very likely in fact, that the Penguins will make the post-season, and could even end up as the Metropolitan Division champions. The bigger question, as it has been in Pittsburgh since the championship in 2009, is about more than regular season success, or winning a round in the playoffs. For the franchise and its fans, only winning the Eastern Conference and getting a shot at the Stanley Cup quantifies success. As far as Stanley Cup finalists have been concerned, division and conference records may not be the determining factor for success, but the trends display a baseline, which should be worrisome for any Penguins fan.
When determining comparisons for teams ? standings and records, one of the more accepted formulas for success is point percentage, which simply breaks down to signify what percentage of points were attained from how many possible points. Looking back at the last 6 years of Stanley Cup finalists, the division and conference records for the 12 teams in those years signify that at the very least, a baseline for intra-conference and intra-division success and its potential impact on playoff success.
What do division records have to with playoff success?
With the introduction of the new division alignments, as well as a new playoff format, division rivals are now almost guaranteed to see each other in the first round of the playoffs, as well as other rounds. Last year, the Penguins faced off against both the Columbus Blue Jackets as well as the New York Rangers. On the surface, the impact is relatively visible, quantitatively the data from the past six Stanley Cup finalists show that teams over that time have at worst had a conference point percentage of .539 and a .542 division point percentage, but average over .640 for both.
The 2014-2015 Penguins are currently (as of 2/10/2015) at a conference point percentage of .608 and a division point percentage of .450, meaning that if the Penguins don ?t improve on their division record in the last 10 division games, they would be working against the odds to make the Stanley Cup Finals.
See the table below for how each of the 12 teams fared within their division and conference since the 2008-2009 season:
Although the Penguins conference point percentage is well above the Kings 13-14, Kings 11-12, and Flyers 09-10, they are still relatively significantly below the average from the finalists within that time. While their conference record falls within the range of the 12 teams that have made the final over the past six years, the Penguins division record shows a more hazardous terrain ahead. No team has made the Stanley Cup finals without at least a .500 record against their own division.
Looking at the different scenarios for the Penguins in the remaining 10 games, the odds don ?t improve significantly unless the Penguins suddenly pick up their game against their rivals. If the Penguins were to bring their division record up to the Stanley Cup Finalist standard range (from .542 to .917) as seen above, they would need a significant and, frankly, unlikely boost.
Here are the scenarios for the remaining ten division games and what impact it would have on the Penguins division point percentage:
Even if the Penguins went perfect against the division in their remaining 9 games (counting Tuesday’s loss to the Caps as the 10th game), with an overall division record of 17-10-4, their division percentage points at .612 would still fall quite short of the Finalist average at .659. If the Penguins split the remaining games with 5 wins and 4 losses, they would stay close to their current pace and would have considerable odds to beat in order to make the Stanley Cup Finals if these trends hold steady. In order for the Penguins to barely beat the lowest division points percentage figure (Devils 11-12 at .542) they would need to go 7-1-1 in their last 9 against the division, matching their previous total of wins, while only losing a total of 2 times.
While these numbers don ?t guarantee a successful playoff future, what do they show is that the Penguins would need to go against recent history to break trends and overcome a poor division showing to become a Stanley Cup finalist. Additionally, even teams in the past few years widely recognized as having less-than-stellar regular seasons, such as the Kings in both 2012 and 2014, would be well above where the Penguins currently are.
With less than half the season remaining, the Penguins will need to hope they can buck the trend of their contender predecessors and make it to the dance.