Pittsburgh Penguins Have Controlled Games At A Remarkable Rate So Far


Nov 8, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Brandon Sutter (16) heads into the Buffalo Sabres zone during the third period at First Niagara Center. Penguins beat the Sabres 6-1. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

After the Pittsburgh Penguins won their seventh game in a row Saturday night in Buffalo, the cynical among us pointed out that walloping the Sabres is nothing to crow about.

I might take the opposite perspective, though. Beating the Sabres twice in the past two weeks by a combined score of 11-1 isn’t the same as doing likewise against a team that has higher aspirations than a No. 1 draft pick, but it’s also not the same as inexplicably keeping it close.

No, the Penguins (10-2-1, 21 points) left no doubt in either victory over the sorry Sabres, who seemingly didn’t touch the puck Saturday until they trailed 3-0. There’s no need to add stress to a long regular season if you don’t have to, and Pittsburgh has mostly avoided heart palpitations since its last loss, 4-3 in Detroit on Oct. 23.

Only one game in the seven-game winning streak has been in serious doubt in the third period: a 4-3 shootout victory in Winnipeg last Thursday. Putting that sloppy evening aside, the Penguins have played with a lead for a remarkable amount of time over the past two weeks – and for the entire season.

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Pittsburgh has been in such control lately that it’s only natural to look back and rue losses to Dallas and Detroit, games in which it carried leads into the final moments of the third period.

In fact, if they had found a way to keep the Stars from scoring in the dying seconds Oct. 16, the Penguins’ lone regulation loss would be their only truly poor game of the season – a 5-3 defeat to Philadelphia Oct. 22.

The Pens’ advantage over their opponents through 13 games is evident in their Fenwick numbers, which measure the percentage of the non-blocked shot attempts they have launched thus far. According to WAR-on-ice.com, Pittsburgh has a superb Fenwick percentage of 56.9 in close situations, defined as games that are within one goal in the first two periods or tied in the third.

That’s the second-best “Fenwick Close” result in the NHL, behind only Minnesota. This means that by and large the Penguins haven’t lucked their way into their terrific start. This matches what we’re seeing on the ice, with Pittsburgh’s first and third lines dominating most shifts and defensemen joining the rush to help maintain puck possession.

The Penguins probably aren’t going to keep shooting 13 percent as a team or scoring on 40 percent of their power plays, so their control of the action to this point is encouraging for the long haul.

Forward depth could still be improved and injuries can always pop up, but coach Mike Johnston’s Pens have done an admirable job controlling an uncontrollable game.