3 Games into Pens/Flyers, what’s the most surprising stat
On the high end of expectations, several have out-performed expectations. Las Vegas set the over/under on Sidney Crosby points in the entire series at 6.5. He already has 7. Pittsburgh has seven total players with a point per game or more so far in the brief series. “Big Bonus” Brian Dumoulin got an assist added yesterday by the league from Game 3, so he’s up to 5 points in the 3 games. He only had 6 points all playoff last year!
But for this piece today, we’re going to look at the surprises that are on the low end of expectations. Given that it’s only been a few games and there are the most crucial games still to go, all of this could change quickly. But even after just a few games trends are becoming pretty evident.
Conor Sheary 9:09 ice time per game
After slumping pretty heavily in the 2017 playoffs (just 2 goals and 5 assists in 22 games and a healthy scratch twice), the 2018 playoffs have not started well for Conor Sheary. His 9:09 time on ice per game is the lowest on the entire team, even under 4th liners like Tom Kuhnhackl and rookie Zach Aston-Reese. One reason his ice-time is so low is because his most memorable play of the series to date was bobbling a puck in the defensive zone that turned into a turnover that turned into this.
One mistake, true, but that play in the first period of the first game has seemed to land Sheary back in the doghouse.
To make matters worse, the Penguins have elected to reunite Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin at times, making what could have been a very favorable line for Sheary to be paired with Kessel and Brassard instead turn into fragments of ice time.
Sheary and Brassard have just a 42.1% Corsi For (though in just 20 minutes of 5v5 icetime). They have not scored or been scored on, luckily, and scoring chances are 5 For and 11 Against per Natural Stat Trick.
Add it all up (shaky defense, unable to control possession or generate any offense) and Sheary seems to be lost in the shuffle again and among the least trusted players on the team. Aston-Reese replaced him as 3rd line LW for a stretch in Game 2. It seems 50/50 at this point if Sheary will be able to work himself in a bigger role or if perhaps Aston-Reese can supplant him completely.
Phil Kessel 4 Shots on Goal
Believe it or not, Kessel has been a low event player at 5v5 so far in the 2018 playoffs. In 30 minutes of action in the three games, he’s been on ice for 1 goal for and none against. Coach Mike Sullivan has been moving Kessel around; Phil’s played 15 minutes ES with Brassard but almost 13 with Evgeni Malkin to this point (again per Natural Stat Trick).
One big item the Pens will like to see more of, and likely will address in this long break, is Kessel getting shots to net. It’s often a point that Sullivan harps on anyways. This quote is from last October but a common theme for Sullivan’s requests for Kessel.
“We’re trying to encourage both of them [Kessel and Malkin] to shoot the puck more often. They can create offense off of it if the goalie makes the save. We believe that a fair amount of them will go in if they shoot a little bit more.”
Kessel for his part has been receptive. In the 2017-18 regular season his 261 SOG led the Penguins, and equated to about 3.2 shots per game. 4 shots in 3 playoff games is obviously a lot less (1.33 for you math majors out there). This number needs to go up, and almost surely it will. One good game of looking to shoot and Phil can pretty much right the ship on this one. So it isn’t a major worry but should be a point of emphasis. The Pens are a much better team when Kessel is shooting more.
Philly stars are dim
It’s only been three games but those top five forwards for Philly have a total of but 2 goals and 6 assists in the series. Sidney Crosby has been better than all combined with 4g+3a, given the importance of scoring goals.
In particular Simmonds is struggling and only played 12 minutes last night. He’s on a 3rd line and without much supporting talent around him. Simmonds is usually a physical presence at least but has seemed quiet in that regard as well. His 24 goals in 75 games in the regular season was also his lowest mark since coming to Philadelphia in 2011 (ignoring the lockout shortened season).
Giroux’s most memorable play to this point is Crosby bettering him on a faceoff and racing past him to setup scoring a goal. After a 102 point season, Giroux has but one point (an assist) in the three games.
The Flyers don’t have the depth or supporting players to expect to win without those guys filling the net. They’ll have a few more chances but generally it’s so far, so good for the Dumoulin – Kris Letang pair and Matt Murray to keep the big guns mostly silent.
What “low stat” has the best chance of turning around?
Conor Sheary’s ice-time/production
Phil Kessel’s shots on goal
Flyers get more out of big guns, still stink
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