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