Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Pens Need Wingers to Pull the Trigger

By Artistry

As has been thoroughly documented in this space and others over the past couple of seasons, the Penguins have a dearth of goal scoring talent to pair with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.  That's not going to change anytime soon.  But the Ray Shero formula of rolling out a succession of star centers (and the guess here is Malkin will be back at that position eventually), cheap sandpaper and speed on the wings, and an active and mobile defense is about the best you can hope for in the salary cap era. 

No one is turning the likes of Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, Tyler Kennedy, Matt Cooke, Aaron Asham, Mike Rupp, Max Talbot and Craig Adams into 30 goal scorers, but can we expect more from the Penguins' wingers than we've gotten through the season's first 12 games?  I say yes.  Here's why.

The most effective run the Pens have had under Dan Bylsma happened in the stretch run of the 2008-2009 season.  Even when the team didn't win, they were dominating the opposition in shots on goal.  From March 1, 2009 through the last 19 games of the regular season, that Cup-winning Penguins team outshot the opposition by an average of 5.9 shots per contest.  They were coming in waves and demoralizing people.  Full court press.  It was during this period of time that the Bylsma catchprase "Get to our game" became ingrained in our consciousness.  And it wasn't like that team had an over-abundance of scoring wingers either.  Some of these names may look familiar:  Kunitz, Cooke, Kennedy, Dupuis, and Talbot, plus Bill Guerin, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Petr Sykora.  Those are basically the same guys we've been complaining about for years, and Guerin, Fedotenko, and Sykora were all approaching the "drinking wine with Mario in the owner's box" stage of their careers.

This season the Pens are still generally outshooting the opposition (by an average of 4.2 shots per game), but that's largely attributable to Paul Martin, Alex Goligoski, and Kris Letang controlling the play from the back end, and certainly not because our top wingers are actually putting the puck on net.  Look at the numbers:

Chris Kunitz - 17 shots in 12 games (1.42 spg)
Pascal Dupuis - 18 shots in 12 games (1.5 spg)

Kunitz and Duper have the best passer in the league as their center, and they're combining for fewer than three shots per game.  How can that be?  Look at a couple of the other tandems riding shotgun with star centers and see how they compare:

Martin St. Louis and Steve Downie (Steven Stamkos wingers) - 56 shots in 10 games (5.6 spg)
Alex Ovechkin and Mike Knuble (Niklas Backstrom wingers) - 89 shots in 11 games (8.0 spg)

Am I saying Kunitz and Dupuis should produce like Ovechkin and St. Louis?  Of course not.  Should they be shooting more?  Absolutely.  Mike Knuble has double the shots (32) that Kunitz and Dupuis have.  That's the way you create scoring opportunities, even when the initial shot doesn't go in.  And we know Kunitz and Dupuis can do better in that department just by looking at the breakdown from their 2009-2010 season on Sid's wing:

Chris Kunitz - 131 shots in 50 games (2.62 spg)
Pascal Dupuis - 157 shots in 81 games (1.94 spg)

Now consider the team's overall performance this season compared to last:

2010-2011 Penguins:  31 shots per game; 2.9 goals per game
2009-2010 Penguins:  34.8 shots per game; 3.3 goals per game

Think this disparity in shots on goal is statistically insignificant?  As of this writing, it's the difference between being number 2 in the league (behind San Jose) and being smack in the middle of the pack, tied for number 15.  When you're a team lacking scoring touch on the wing, that can make all the difference.

Hands of stone?  Shoot anyway.

Aiming for the goalie's chest?  Better than nothing.
If Kunitz can't use his grit and Dupuis his speed to get more pucks to the net, there are at least a couple of guys who will:  Mark Letestu (2.5 spg) and Tyler Kennedy (2.9 spg).  Your move, gentlemen.  I suggest you pull the trigger.

Stay tuned today for Finesse's thoughts on the NHL Network.


  1. You want Kennedy on Sid's line? Really??

  2. I think the idea is that none of these wingers really stands out offensively, so we might as well elevate the ones who are willing to put as many pucks on net as possible.

  3. Artistry,

    You make a compelling case BUT, while simply throwing more pucks at the net increases odds of scoring goals, if the players shooting the puck aren’t finishers, game results won’t change significantly.

    Our wingers can’t close, period. They are the guys at the bar that walk up to a hot girl and end up standing by themselves because they stumble over what they’re trying to say. And, unfortunately hitting on the average girls doesn’t win you Stanley Cups.

    The team that won the cup had proven goal scorers. Satan has scored over 360 goals in his career, Guerin has scored over 420, Sykora has scored over 300.

    Were they older? Yes. Were they consistent snipers? No. But those three guys have combined for more than a 1000 goals in their careers.

    Kunitz at 31 years of age has 103, Dupuis at 31 has 117, Cooke at 32 has 116, and Kennedy at age 24 just got his 40th. Guerin nearly has more than all of them combined.

    In addition, Comrie has hardly been able to find the ice let alone the net. So I believe it’s more than just wishful thinking to suggest increasing the in game shot totals will take us from a .500 team to a playoff contender. I do understand where you’re coming from though as I believe you’re trying to fix a problem with the current supplies. I simply don’t think that can be done.

    Now I’m aware of the reality that no reasonable free agents existed this summer, and no one in the system presently can fill that void. However, we have no finishers on our wings, and they’re not going to finish shots by shooting more.

  4. David, insightful and passionate comment, as always. But I disagree with your ultimate point. There is often a direct correlation between shooting and scoring, particulary for less talented shooters. The Pens' shots per game is down by 4 this season from last, and their goals per game is down by .4. There are very few guys in the league anymore who can cash in with limited opportunities. Even Geno and Sid often need 6 or 7 shots to get a goal. Sometimes those goals come off a rebound of a Dupuis shot to the goalie's chest. Scoring chances matter, even when they don't go in.

  5. Has anyone considered that our wingers physicially aren't good enough shoot more? I'm sure there are tons of guys in the league who would like to take 10 shots a game like Ovechkin, but there is a reason that Ovechkin is the only guy who can do that -- he's better than almost everyone else.

  6. Finesse,

    We're on the same page my friend. I too believe that to be the case. Goal scorers create their opportunities. None of our wingers are adept at doing that.

  7. Isn't that kind of like saying James Jones of the Miami Heat can't get shots because he can't get open looks on his own like Dwayne Wade? James Jones scored 17 points last night because the defense gravitates to Wade and Lebron. All Pascal Dupuis needs to do is find open ice, and he will get his shots. I'm not talking about taking ten shots a game, I'm talking about taking 3. That would double the output from Kunitz and Dupuis.

    Why does Tyler Kennedy lead our wingers (aside from Malkin) in shots? It's not because he's better than everyone else, or even because he's playing with a top center. It's because if a shot is there, he takes it. Every time.

  8. Actually using tyler Kennedy as an example only further supports the notion that throwing more pucks at the net doesnt mean more goals will be scored.

    Tyler is rougly on pace for a 13 goal season off a little more 220 shots. He takes it and the goalie says thank you most of the time. So over 93 % of the time he is playing catch with the netminder.

    Regarding James Jones, basketball players arent required to throw they're bodies into another player everytime they are on the floor. Do they play defense? Yea. But its not really comparable.

    Plus is it really fruitfull to take one instance where jones scores 17 points and say look what he did? Dupuis had two goals the other night, but I may be a grandfather before that happens again and I don't have any kids yet.

    Jones is 6.5 ppg career player by the way. If he averages 15 ppg at the end of the year then maybe its a reasonable argument but until then its really not.

    The old saying is that you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear......All our winger's keep doing is oinking away.

  9. Aaaaaannnnnd the wingers continue to oink it up

  10. David, we thought you were writing in to apologize to Tyler Kennedy.

  11. One fight to stick up for Geno does warrant reprieve from criticism over the fact he is not doing enough offensively.