The New and Improved 2019-20 Pittsburgh Penguins

The 2019-20 Pittsburgh Penguins warm up.
BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 04: Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) juggles the puck in warm up before a game between the Boston Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins on November 4, 2019, at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The 2019-20 Pittsburgh Penguins are looking much improved from previous early-season Penguins teams. They’re a much more consistent team, even though some moments this season have led fans to second-guess that. Still, the team is in a great place, ranking third in the Metropolitan Division. The Penguins proved their new-and-improved identity in Thursday’s win against the New York Islanders. Despite struggles early in the game, the Penguins surged forward late in the game. They shocked the Islanders in the third period and went on to win the game in overtime which brought an end to New York’s 10-game win streak. It also proved to the league that the Penguins are off to a promising start, even if the record isn’t as strong as some would hope.

2019-20 Pittsburgh Penguins Trusted The Process

Playing well defensively

Over the past few seasons, the Penguins have a notorious record of early-season struggles. They seem to always allow a lot of shots, a lot of odd-man rushes, and get hemmed in their own zone. This season is much different, though. The Penguins have been one of the best teams in the league defensively. According to Natural Stat Trick, Pittsburgh has been the NHL’s best team at shot suppression this season. They are also the best team in the league when it comes to XGA/60, according to Jesse Marshall of The Athletic:

In addition to this, here is another chart from Sean Tierney showcasing just how good Pittsburgh has been on the defensive end:

 

These graphs are great signs for Penguins fans. The team is featured among dominant teams like the Vancouver Canucks, Carolina Hurricanes, and Vegas Golden Knights. All of these teams have had great starts to the year and are good company for Pittsburgh.

The Penguins are not giving up nearly as many odd-man rushes as they were giving up last season. Perhaps even better, they’re limiting the number of shots that their opponents are getting almost every game now. In their most recent game against the Islanders, the Penguins only allowed 23 shots in total. Pittsburgh also only allowed 25 shots to the Boston Bruins in a 6-4 loss earlier in the year. They then allowed only 28 shots to the Edmonton Oilers in a loss. It’s clear that Mike Sullivan has instilled a great defensive system in the 2019-20 Pittsburgh Penguins and it’s paying off in a big way.

Blowing teams off the ice

In addition to the Penguins stout defensive effort, they have been out-chancing teams at will throughout games. Look no further than the games against Edmonton and Boston. In the games against the Oilers, Pittsburgh put up 52 shots on Mike Smith and he only allowed one in. He was the sole reason Edmonton would go on to win the game even though the Penguins hemmed the Oilers in their own zone for the entire game. After a dramatic overtime, they got just one point to show for it. In the game against the Bruins, they mounted a massive three-goal comeback in the second period. Pittsburgh had the best team hemmed in their own zone that entire period and it even carried over into the third.

It was shift after shift, wave after wave, and even though they weren’t rewarded for those efforts, they stuck with it and were rewarded against the Islanders. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Penguins are now the second-best team in the league when it comes to xGF percent at 55.54. That means that the Penguins have been in control of a lot of the games expected goals.

In the Penguins win over the Islanders, they controlled 62 percent of the shot attempts and expected goals, which is very hard to do against a team like the Islanders. The Islanders pride themselves on being a stingy defensive team, thanks to Barry Trotz. Pittsburgh is dominating possession game-in-and-game-out, despite being held back by so many injuries this season.

This is a better hockey team than some are giving credit for and they’ll play even better when Kris Letang and Patric Hornqvist come back from their injuries.

Main Photo:

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