This week, NHL.com goes behind the numbers to examine how the Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche have survived early-season injuries to prominent players and how they can maintain their winning ways.
St. Louis Blues
The defending Stanley Cup champions have 15 points (7-1-1) in nine games since forward Vladimir Tarasenko injured his shoulder Oct. 24. Tarasenko is expected be out a minimum of five months, which could be the remainder of the regular season. So far, the Blues have survived his absence, but how?
Their power play has been a key to driving their success without Tarasenko, surprising because he led St. Louis with 12 power-play goals last season. Forward David Perron has elevated his play with a Blues-high seven power-play points (two goals, five assists) since Oct. 25, tied with Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi for first in the NHL over the span, and he's been the triggerman on the top unit with 12 power-play shots. Not far behind in special-teams production is forward Ryan O'Reilly with six power-play points (two goals, four assists) in that span. Brayden Schenn, O'Reilly and Perron have each scored two power-play goals in those nine games.
The Blues have also gotten stellar goaltending at even strength from Jordan Binnington, who is tied with Darcy Kuemper of the Arizona Coyotes for the sixth-best even-strength save percentage (.936) over the span (minimum five games). For the Blues to maintain their success without Tarasenko, they need consistency on the man-advantage from Perron and improve their 5-on-5 shot attempts differential (minus-28), which indicates opponents have attempted nearly 30 more shots (on goal, missed, blocked) than the Blues at 5-on-5. Since Binnington is a crucial part of the Blues' success, they can help him maintain his strong season by increasing their puck possession metrics at even strength.
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The Penguins, who dealt with early-season injuries to forwards Evgeni Malkin and Alex Galchenyuk, are without center Sidney Crosby and defenseman Kris Letang (lower body), with Crosby out at least six weeks after having surgery to repair a core muscle injury Thursday. Despite not playing with a full lineup for much of the season, the Penguins rank third in 5-on-5 shot attempts differential (plus-114) behind the Carolina Hurricanes (plus-167) and Toronto Maple Leafs (plus-117) and hold the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
It's worth noting Letang (plus-91) and Crosby (plus-75) are first and second respectively on the Penguins in 5-on-5 shot attempts differential, but contributions from depth forwards can't be overlooked. Brandon Tanev has a plus-28 SAT rating through 18 games, leads Pittsburgh in hits (72) and is first among their forward group in blocks (15). Forward Jared McCann has scored five even-strength goals, which is tied for second on the Penguins behind Jake Guentzel (six). Bryan Rust also has scored five even-strength goals, impressive considering he's played seven games this season.
A key to maintaining success without Crosby and Letang is even-strength play, considering Pittsburgh's power play ranks 26th in the NHL (13.7 percent). A tangible way to do that is to increase Rust's even-strength time on ice from 13:19 per game closer to that of Guentzel, who's first among Penguins forwards with 17:44 per game in that situation.
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They're without two top-line forwards in Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. Rantanen left the game against the Blues on Oct. 21 with a lower-body injury. Landeskog (lower body) last played against the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 26 and is out for the foreseeable future. The Avalanche lost their first five games (0-4-1) without Landeskog and Rantanen but have won three in a row while outscoring their opponents 17-6.
What changed? The power play was 1-for-19 in their first four games without Landeskog and Rantanen but is 4-for-11 (36.4 percent) during the winning streak, tied with the Detroit Red Wings for fourth in the NHL over the span. Depth forwards Joonas Donskoi and Andre Burakovsky are tied for the Avalanche lead in power-play points (two) with center Nathan MacKinnon, who has totaled eight points (three goals, five assists) in the three games. Despite losing each of his linemates, MacKinnon has raised his game to a new level and is creating chances on almost every shift. His 20 shots on goal in Colorado's past three games are eight more than defenseman Cale Makar, whose four goals are tied for first with Donskoi during the winning streak.
One area critical to maintaining their success is for Donskoi to increase his shot volume. Despite scoring four goals in his past three games, his shooting percentage over the span (44.4 percent) will revert closer to his NHL career average (11.3 percent). The best way to offset the likely dip in goals that would accompany a lower shooting percentage would be for him to increase his shot volume. Donskoi's previous NHL career-high is 14 goals, which he's scored each of the past two seasons and seems more than obtainable this season, and his heavier shot volume would help to lessen the load from MacKinnon's shoulders in terms of generating offense. It should also be mentioned that the Avalanche won three straight games without starting goalie Philipp Grubauer, who is out with a lower-body injury but expected to return soon.
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