Kris Letang (Getty Images)
With at least two power play goals in 10 of their first 13 games and no power play goals against in 10 straight, the Pittsburgh Penguins' special teams could rewrite the record books if the pace can be maintained.
When it comes to special teams, The Pittsburgh Penguins’ ability is unfair. They’ve scored 15 more goals with the extra man than their opponents in just 13 games and their power play is first in the league at a jaw-dropping 37.5 percent. Their penalty kill isn’t too bad either at 88.5 percent, good for third in the league. The team has registered a power play goal in 10 of 13 games (two or more in eight of those) and hasn’t surrendered a goal on the penalty kill in 10 straight. Simply put, they’ve been downright unstoppable.
The more impressive component is the power play that has scored 21 goals thanks to a scary collection of talent whose skills complement each other perfectly. The top unit consisting of
Chris Kunitz, and
Kris Letang is a nightmare for opposing teams and they all currently rank in the top five for power play points. The strategy for them, like every other power play, is get pucks to the net. In that regard the Penguins are an elite team, putting up 63 shots every 60 minutes. That would be the fifth best mark since 2005-06 and a good sign that the power play will continue to be among the best in the league. The shot rate is almost identical to last year’s team (also tops in the league), which finished with a success rate of 23.4 percent. The real reason they’ve been so much more successful this season is that they’re scoring on 23 percent of their shots, an unheard of rate for any power play in this era. For comparison’s sake, last year’s Penguins scored on 13.9 percent – much closer to the average of 12.8 – and the highest for a full season was 17.9 percent by the 2008-09 Flyers. It’s arguable they’re getting higher-quality shots to go along with their high quantity, but they won’t continue scoring on one of every four shots all year. The Penguins are in a league of their own with the fact no team since 2005-06 has scored on 35 percent or more of their power play opportunities in its first 13 games, but that doesn’t mean no team has done it during any 13-game stretch. If a team has, then it’s even more reason to believe this won’t last for the Penguins. Since 2005-06, there have been 49 teams with a power play above 20 percent and we’ll assume no team below that could have a power play stretch as dominant as the Pens right now. Here’s how they fared during any 13 game stretch (i.e. 1-13, 2-14, etc.) that season.
Click here to englarge What’s obvious from the chart is that every team goes through hot and cold streaks, but stays between 20 to 25 percent for most of the year. Six of the 49 best teams – including last year's Penguins – posted a power play efficiency higher than Pittsburgh’s 37.5 percent in 17 out of 3,158 cases. What the Pens have done so far is remarkably rare and impressive, but it’s happened before and no team maintained the pace. The good fortune doesn’t stop on the power play, either. On the penalty kill they’re below average at suppressing shots, but their goalies have a .925 save percentage. That’s the best mark for a team since 2005-06 and the reason they’ve been successful there. That’ll presumably fall too. Adding power play shooting percentage and penalty-kill save percentage, like PDO does for 5-on-5, emphasizes just how fortunate they’ve been so far. Here’s a graph of every team’s special teams PDO against the difference between power play shots for and penalty kill shots against.
The Penguins look like they’re in a completely different solar system compared to every other team. They outscore their opponents by 5.4 per 60 minutes mostly because of their luck with the percentages. The next highest is the 2010-11 Canucks at 2.3, and the Penguins could settle there at season’s end among the best special teams of this era. But they’re not as good as they seem right now, and eventually they’ll fall back down to Earth.