The Pittsburgh Penguins have more scoring titles in recent memory than any other NHL team. They pot goals and celebrate with the best of them, until recently. The 2014-2015 season was the first time Sidney Crosby didn’t win the scoring race in a season where he played 60+ games since he first took home the title as a teenager.
Fast forward to this season and the youngest captain to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup has only one goal in the first month of action. Some people think this is a massive problem and surely an anemic shooting percentage of 3.3%, down from a career average of 14.3%, is not ideal nor is it the norm for a guy like Crosby.
The truth is though that Crosby, and for that matter Malkin and Kessel, probably won’t win the scoring title or the Rocket Richard this year, and that’s okay. Recent history says there’s a real chance none of them scores more than 30 and that, that’s actually good news.
Wait, three superstars and none of them scoring more than 30? Yes, really. The new NHL is not built for the kind of high scoring affair it was when Lemieux, Gretzky and Jagr made the scoring title theirs. Nor is it built for the kinds of seasons we saw in 2005-2006 when Crosby won his first title. There is less offense, better goaltending, more shot blocking and fewer power plays. But still you would think with three guys who have topped 30 goals regularly that asking for 30 each from the big three isn’t too much. Well let’s break down why that’s ridiculous:
So you have three guys who score thirty over the course of an 82-game season. That’s 90 goals over 82 games and an average of 1.09 goals a game just between those three. Since one cannot score .09 of a goal this works out to an average of two goals a game. So two of Crosby, Malkin or Kessel need to find the back of the net, on many nights, per game. In a league where the average number of goals scored is 2.65 this accounts for nearly all goal scoring given the ebbs and flows of the season and the nature that all goal-scorers are streaky. This means Kris Letang isn’t allowed to score a career high 12 again. Hornqvist reaching 30? Don’t think about it. Dupuis and Kunitz, sorry no goals for you.
But before we start crying about how it isn’t okay that these guys won’t score as much lets talk about why that’s actually, a good thing.
Remember 2013? I’m sure you do. The Penguins won a ridiculous 14 straight and went the entire month of March without a loss. Then they met the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final. Suddenly, Crosby and Malkin couldn’t buy a goal. There wasn’t a lack of trying just the success of the Bruins to shut down the team’s top two lines. The team that won the cup that year? The Chicago Blackhawks. No one hit the 30 goal plateau (yes this was a shortened season but the Hawks also were historically great that year). If you pull up Stanley Cup winners from the last few years you see a trend. No one scores more than 30 goals individually, but more players score 10 goals than not.
Case in point: last year the Chicago Blackhawks had a 28 and a 27 goal scorer. They also had ten skaters score 10 goals or more including one defenseman. In 2014 and 2012 the Cup-winning LA Kings were led by Anze Kopitar in the goal scoring department where he racked up just 29 and 25 respectively. The last time a team had two 30-plus goal scorers and won the cup? The Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008-2009.
Winning the Stanley Cup is still the goal, not winning the Rocket Richard. In fact, no team has ever won the Rocket Richard and the Stanley Cup in the same year.
So what about the 2015-2016 Pittsburgh Penguins? We were told we would have all these goals! We will, they will just be more spread out.
Think of it like a raffle. You have a raffle ticket, there is no way to make one raffle ticket better than another one. A scorer, no matter how elite, still faces defensemen, other forwards, a goalie and puck luck. Buy twelve raffle tickets instead of two though and your chances of winning go up. Put Crosby and Malkin on the ice and you have two chances for a goal but put Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Hornqvist, Dupuis, Kunitz, Fehr, Bennett, Bonino and Letang out there and you have ten chances for a goal. Ten is greater than two. Would you rather have one fifty goal scorer or an army of fifteen goal scorers?
In the end it comes down to the big goal. Sure, scoring is cool but, as Ben Lovejoy tweeted last year “winning is fun.” Given the choice, any NHL player from Nick Bonino to Sidney Crosby would agree, they’d turn in their individual awards for a team-won Cup any day.