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Behind The Numbers

Comparing Penguins to recent Stanley Cup champions

Numbers show scoring depth, goaltending, special teams powered Pittsburgh to title

by Rob Vollman / NHL.com Columnist

With a fantastic 24-game run, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup after defeating the San Jose Sharks 4-2 in Game 6 of the Cup Final at SAP Center on Sunday. How do their numbers compare to those of other recent champions? 

A statistical comparison to the previous 10 teams to win the Cup reveals the Penguins achieved their success with scoring depth, high shot volumes, consistent goaltending and effective special teams despite low shooting percentages, mediocre third-period play, and spending too much time in the defensive zone. 

Overall, the Penguins are fairly typical Stanley Cup champions compared to the winners the previous 10 seaons. Their 3.04 goals per game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and their 2.29 goals allowed per game each ranks sixth out of 11. 

All together, the Penguins scored 73 goals and allowed 55 for a goal differential of plus-18, which is tied with the 2014 Los Angeles Kings for fourth. The most dominant teams include the 2012 Kings (plus-27), the 2011 Boston Bruins (plus-28), and the 2008 Detroit Red Wings (plus-31). 

Scoring depth 

If there's anything different about the Penguins this season compared to other recent champions, it's that their scoring is spread out across their entire lineup. 

Video: SJS@PIT, Gm2: Sheary wins game off Letang's feed

In the Cup Final against San Jose, Pittsburgh's 15 goals were scored by 12 players. 

Compare that dynamic to the 2009 Penguins, whose scoring was especially concentrated. That year, centers Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby each had double the scoring totals of any other player on the team, and they combined to score 29 of the Penguins' 79 postseason goals. 

This season, Phil Kessel led the Penguins with 10 goals and 22 points, which ranks eighth among the 11 Stanley Cup champions' scoring leaders since 2005. 

High shot volumes 

Another key difference is Pittsburgh's scoring was produced by heavy shot volumes. In this regard, their closest comparable is the 2008 Red Wings. 

The Penguins averaged 34.9 shots per game, which helped achieve a shot differential of plus-6.9 per game, and outshot their opponents in 19 of 24 games. 

Video: PIT@SJS, Gm6: Jones stones Crosby, then robs Sheary

In each regard, the Penguins are second to the 2008 Red Wings, who averaged 36.5 shots per game, achieved a shot differential of plus-12.9 and outshot their opponents in 20 of 22 games. 

These high shot volumes are especially critical, given that the Penguins scored on 8.7 percent of their shots, which ranks next-to-last to the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks, who scored on 8.1 percent. 

Pittsburgh's low shooting percentage is especially unusual, given its average shot distance was 33.5 feet, the second shortest of all 12 Stanley Cup finalists since this statistic was first recorded in 2010-11. Only the 2014 Rangers took shots from closer to the net, at 32.6 feet. 

Consistent goaltending 

Between goalies Matt Murray, Marc-Andre Fleury and Jeff Zatkoff, the Penguins had a .920 save percentage, which is tied with the 2008 Red Wings for seventh. 

Though not playing at the same level as Jonathan Quick and the 2012 Kings, who had a .944 save percentage, Pittsburgh's goalies played consistently enough to give the Penguins a chance to win on any given night. 

Video: PIT@SJS, Gm6: Murray denies Marleau, preserves lead

This is best measured using the quality starts metric; a quality start is awarded in any game when the starting goalie stops at least a League-average number of shots. In this case, the Penguins had quality starts in 15 of 24 games, fourth among Cup champions in the eight seasons that this statistic has been recorded. 

Effective special teams 

The Penguins were effective in all manpower situations, even when compared to the elite play of recent Stanley Cup champions. 

Pittsburgh scored 18 power-play goals in 77 opportunities for a 23.4 percent success rate, third among the 11 champions. The 2006 Carolina Hurricanes are first, scoring on 31 of 129 power-play opportunities (24.0 percent). 

In 67 shorthanded situations, the Penguins allowed 10 power-play goals, which is third-fewest. In 76 shorthanded situations each, the 2012 Kings and 2013 Blackhawks allowed six and seven goals, respectively. Even more impressive, the 2012 Kings scored five shorthanded goals, meaning their opponents outscored them by a single goal in man-advantage situations. 

The key to Pittsburgh's success wasn't just in killing penalties, but in taking so few of them. Pittsburgh's 85.1 penalty-killing percentage ranks sixth, but its average of 7:32 penalty minutes per game were the second-fewest behind the 2015 Blackhawks (7:02). 

Video: SJS@PIT, Gm5: Malkin banks it past Jones for PPG

Shortcomings 

None of the Stanley Cup champions were perfect, and a statistical comparison can reveal a few of the weaknesses that Pittsburgh had to overcome. 

In addition to a low shooting percentage, the Penguins were faced with two other notable obstacles: mediocre play in the third period and spending a lot of time in the defensive zone. 

The Penguins took 49.8 percent of their faceoffs in the offensive zone, relative to the defensive zone. In the previous five seasons when such data was recorded, the Penguins rank next-to-last among Stanley Cup finalists, better than only the 2015 Tampa Bay Lightning (48.7 percent). 

As for the third period, Pittsburgh outscored its opponents 20-19 throughout the postseason. That goal differential of plus-1 is next-to-last to the 2015 Blackhawks, who were tied 22-22 in the third period. The best third-period goal differential was the 2014 Kings, who outscored their opponents 30-16. 

That's why Pittsburgh lost two of the 14 games it began the third period with the lead. No Stanley Cup winner lost more than a single game when entering the third with the lead, and seven of the 10 other teams were undefeated in such situations. The 2008 Red Wings were 14-0 when entering the third period with the lead. 

Furthermore, the Penguins became the third recent Stanley Cup champion that never came back in any game it began the third period trailing, joining the 2008 Red Wings and 2011 Bruins.

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