Stanley Cup Finals - Pittsburgh Penguins v Detroit Red Wings - Game Seven

Like I said on Monday, Jarome Iginla is significantly better offensively than Brenden Morrow and can play a buttload of effective minutes most nights. The beauty of the Pittsburgh Penguins trading for Jarome and why it’s more significant than the Morrow trade is that Iginla is more beloved in the hockey world than Morrow, and I say that with all due respect to what Morrow accomplished in Dallas.

But in Canada, particularly out West, we’ve been watching Jarome Iginla on national TV since the days there were two national games a week on Hockey Night and not much else. If Jarome Iginla has a defining year of his career, it wasn’t 2004 when he and Mikka Kiprusoff dragged a team with Oleg Saprykin and Chris Simon in the top six to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals. It was moreso in 2002, when Iginla, still virtually anonymous in everywhere but Western Canada, Iginla scored 52 goals and 96 points to win the both goal- and point-scoring titles, and would have won the Hart Trophy if Calgary had made the playoffs.

Iginla was also one of the most key members of the Canadian Olympic team that won the gold medal in 2002. His assist on the Golden Goal in Vancouver almost dwarfs his other significant international hockey accomplishment. Iginla scored twice in Canada’s 5-2 win over the Americans in the gold medal game in Salt Lake City, with a late slapshot goal that barely trickled in as Mike Richter got a good piece of it.


(go to 2:33)

It’s one of the best goal calls of all time. Bob Cole was calling the game for CBC along with Harry Neale and was in his absolute prime. He calls out “GOAL” and “SCORE” simultaneously and ends up yelling “GORE”. Joe Sakic clinched it a few minutes later and I don’t remember exactly how I felt any other time during those games than the elation I felt surrounded by family as Canada won its first gold medal in men’s hockey in 50 years.

Jarome wasn’t supposed to be there. He wasn’t even supposed to go to Canada’s 40-man orientation camp that summer, purely on the basis that he wasn’t really all that well-known. In 2001, Jarome Iginla was just a good player playing for a bad team that wore a funny jersey with a horse with fire as its boogers. Simon Gagne went down with an injury at the camp and Wayne Gretzky got on the phone with Jarome to bring him to the camp. His strong performance at the camp, and subsequent breakout in 2001-2002 landed him a spot on the team.

Not that we don’t love Morrow up here as well, but his big credential is consistency. He’s the type of player you look back on in 2007 and look at the number of 20-goal seasons he had and say “hey, this guy is pretty good” but he never captained a Canadian franchise or a sad bit of familiarity for fans of Western Canadian hockey teams who got to watch their teams get crushed by the Colorado Avalanche for the better part of seven years after they moved from Denver.

Part of the acquisition cost of Iginla—because really, how much is an above average scorer worth for 14 games plus a playoff run—comes from the fact that seeing Iginla lift a Cup will be one of the Pittsburgh franchise’s greatest moments. Colorado retired Raymond Bourque’s number, and despite having this juggernaut team with Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg and Patrick Roy for close to a decade, everybody remembers Sakic handing Bourque the Cup after they knocked off the Devils in the seventh game of 2001. I think enough people in the hockey world just want to see Iginla win so badly that a moment like that could become a famous one in the Youtube era for the Penguins, and that’s always cool. Heck, they can hang his number next to Mario’s after it’s all over.

Or maybe not.

I don’t think the Penguins are the clear-cut favourites in the Eastern Conference, though. I’ve mentioned it on Twitter a bunch of times that the Penguins are still well-below teams like the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens (!!!) in puck-possession statistics. Those stats, while they seem counter-intuitive, are predictive of future success. I do take issue somewhat with the way that Hockey Analysis calculates it’s Corsi Tied % (it eliminates plays that came 10 seconds after a faceoff win, because shots resulting from a faceoff win tend not to lead to goals) but the Bruins are ahead of the Penguins in the Fenwick Close rankings over at Behind the Net as well.

The Penguins are improved, but Iginla hasn’t been a good possession player since about midway through the 2011 season. He can still score goals, but he is getting old and I don’t know if he can help the Pens fix their issues in their own zone by keeping the puck out of it. That’s not Brenden Morrow’s game either, or Dougie Murray’s. As upset as the Bruins are that Iginla wound up in Pittsburgh, if they can convince Steve Tambellini to let Ales Hemsky go in the next few days, they’ll wind up with the best player out of the two favoured Eastern teams at the deadline. Hemsky isn’t as sexy a name as Iggy, but he’s younger and I think has more to offer when you consider that half of hockey is preventing pucks from going in your net as well.

Still, what’s amazing about Pittsburgh’s dandy coup is it didn’t cost them a single guy off their roster. I didn’t like Joe Morrow-for-Brenden Morrow in a vaccuum, but they got both Morrow and Iginla for a defensive prospect, two college seniors and a late first round pick. That’s incredible.

They aren’t, though, unbeatable. The be-spectacled Jesse Spector wrote an excellent column about this very issue. A lot of analysts are already sizing up the field’s chances for winning a Cup, even though the favourite in any given year can only expect to win about 22% of the time thanks to the random chance that occurs over the course of a hockey game.

There’s the potential to run into a hot goalie (at this moment, the Penguins could face Henrik Lundqvist in Round One) and not even get into a final showdown with the Bruins in the Eastern final. Remember, the Penguins have won a single playoff series since their Stanley Cup and despite being healthy and favourited last season against Philadelphia, couldn’t defend worth a lick or get a save.

I think the best team, as does Spector, lies out West:

Enter the Los Angeles Kings, the defending Stanley Cup champions and No. 1 possession team in the NHL in 2013. The Kings’ Corsi percentage — the ratio of their shot attempts at 5-on-5 to their opponents’ tally — is 57.5 percent, an incredible 2.9-point margin on the East’s top team in that regard, the Bruins. The Kings also have the NHL’s highest rate of offensive zone faceoffs, at 36.2 percent, and as the seventh-best team in the league at winning draws, that means Los Angeles has the puck quite often in its opponents’ end of the ice.

Go back to last year’s playoffs, and this was part of the Kings’ recipe for success. Even though Los Angeles was constantly playing with the lead, the Kings still had an average shots-on-goal margin of plus-3.6. By continuing to apply pressure, Darryl Sutter’s team has posted an .857 winning percentage this season in games where they have scored first, second in the league to the Blackhawks’ .882 mark. And the Kings are two spots higher in the Western Conference standings now than they were when they embarked on their Cup run a year ago.

The Kings’ have recently started turning their Fenwick Close % into wins. They’re now 4th ranked in the Conference and almost within striking distance of the suddenly cold Anaheim Ducks. As we saw last year, the Kings are a dangerous team in the playoffs because all they need is a goalie who is playing at an equal level of the guy across from him. If Jonathans Quick or Bernier get hot, they become dominant, which is what happened last postseason.

So it’s not all fun and games, as much as I think everybody would love to see Sidney Crosby present the Cup to Jarome Iginla, the anti-stats crowd uses this quote quite often: the games are played on the ice, not on paper. On paper, the Pens look loaded. On the ice, there’s still a lot of work to be done…

Comments (52)

  1. One issue with your stats argument. The Pens have been working on improving their stats. The stats you’re using are for the whole season. A rolling 5, 10, or 15 game set of stats to see how they’re doing recently might be useful too.

    Read this on their stats from before their current winning streak vs during their current winning streak. Specifically how much Corsi numbers have increased for individual players.

    http://www.thepensblog.com/2013-archives/march/fun-with-advanced-stats-explaining-the-streak-with-fenwick-and-corsi.html

    Also, watching the game on the ice last night, against the third best team in the East, play on ice has vastly improved too.

    • The “third best team in the east” is false. Winnipeg may be third by virtue of the standings but my no way are they the third “best” team. Winnipeg plays in the worst division in hockey.

      • Fine, I just quickly glanced at conf standings.

        Still doesn’t change my point about stats.

        • Except that statistics tell a truer story over a larger sample size. Pittsburgh is playing amazing hockey over the last 4-5 weeks, but they can’t play any better than Not Losing Ever, and unless you think this Pittsburgh team is the ’78 Canadiens, then they’re going to come back to earth a bit as the season continues.

          • “Except that statistics tell a truer story over a larger sample size.”

            No, they just tell a longer story. Does how the Pens played at the beginning of the season matter now? Not really. So a rolling 10-15 game stat sheet makes a lot more sense.

            “they’re going to come back to earth a bit as the season continues.”

            I’m definitely not saying they’re going to win it all. but you might want to go look at their schedule. They have about 3 games against teams in the playoffs right now.

  2. Err… the Kings are 5th in the Western Conf. in points still, behind both MN and VAN from the “NorthWorst”…

    • Where any team is in the standings other than out of the playoffs means squat. Any team can beat the Kings … once or twice … winning 4 out of 7 … whole other issue.

  3. Pens are now the prohibitive favorite, but nobody is a lock. Remember when Kariya and Selanne joined the Avalanche ?

    I believe Crosby will remain with Kunitz and Dupuis, and Malkin will line up with Neal and Iginla. How do you defend against 2 lines like that ? Boston isn’t playing well, beyond the amazingly good Bergeron line, but he won’t be able to face both Crosby and Malkin. Chara also won’t be on the ice for 40 minutes.

    My 2 concerns with Pittsburgh is Letang staying healthy, and the goaltending that is inconsistent. They’re not immune to a meltdown like last year againt PHI, although after back-to-back shutouts they are doing OK, thank you very much right now.

    Remember that whoever will come out from the West might be more banged up, after a tough travel schedule and tougher early rounds. The West looks deeper than the East right now.

  4. Bernier has been getting hot and if the Bruins acquire a hot forward, which they will, we’ll likely see LA vs Bruins in the Final. Jarome wanted to badly to play with Sid that he may have passed up his chance for a Cup.

  5. Iginla has been getting destroyed for a few years now while playing against the other teams top players. Brent Sutter didn’t seem to care about this and literally threw him out there again and again and again last season vs the other teams top players. The only way I see Pittsburgh making this a good fit is if he plays very sheltered minutes and on the power play. It might be that he plays out west so people don’t still watch him that much and just see’s that he can still score goals, and that’s why a lot of fans seem to love this move, but I just don’t see a fit here for Iginla at his age

    • Ok kiddo go sit at the kids table while the grown ups talk

    • Pittsburgh already gives sheltered minutes to Malkin (not so much to Crosby, because he’s much better and doesn’t need them). That’s what Jordan Staal was for, that’s what Brandon Sutter is for–take all those tough assignments and let Sid and Geno do what they do best.

  6. Why don’t you do stats on quality of competition? Almost 50% of the Canadiens games this year have been against a backup goaltender. That’s embarrasing. Penguins have played backup goalies 5 times (including last night) and chased them 3 or 4 times.

    • Almost 50%? That is just untrue. I understand that you’re trying to make a point that Pittsburgh is good but mtl hasn’t faced a backup almost half of the season. That’s ridiculous

      • Look at the schedule and the goaltenders in net. Some of them had to start b/c of injury (like hedburg, markstrom), but all in all, as right before the Pens-Habs 1-0 game from Tuesday, it was about 45% of the games vs. backups.

        • I don’t think backup/starter affects Corsi to any significant degree.

          • Perhaps. The stats are shot stats and don’t directly relate to the goalie.

            However, if the offensive guys know the backup goalie is in net, especially if cold, they might be inclined to take a few more shots. After all, there’s a reason he’s the backup goalie.

          • the backup could very well affect the corsi.. if i’m playing in front of Bobrovsky, i’m playing normally.. i’f i’m playing in front of mason, i’m playing a little more light footed ( i.e tossin less shots their way ) and since corsi only measured shots attempted..

          • Nope

            http://www.broadstreethockey.com/2011/8/26/2385982/do-teams-control-play-better-with-their-starting-or-backup-goalie

            I know that’s written from the perspective of the team with the backup, not the opponent, but if teams on average see a slight Fenwick improvement with their backups in net, then it follows that their opponents have their Fenwick decreased. (But the difference doesn’t look significant.)

  7. The one thing that will benefit Iginla is that he’ll either be playing with better players than he was in Calgary, or he’ll be playing softer minutes.

    Maybe Iggy can’t handle being a PVP top line winger any more with Calgary, but maybe he can do it while playing with Malkin or Crosby. Or maybe he can pound on 3rd lines.

  8. Please.. PLEASE. Stop using statistics as a basis for your arguments. Every single team has the same amount of players on the ice, and when you get to the playoffs, it doesn’t matter if you are 1st or 8th, the stats in the regular season don’t mean shit. Using statistic to try and predict who will win the cup is like going to a casino and trying to count cards by yourself after reading a wiki-how page on it.

    Every single team is comprised of a bunch of individuals with a lot of talent, when the playoffs roll around each individual finds their own motivation, and some step up more than others. Yes there are times when teams are just too good, and things are all coming together for them, and yes you can see they are likely going straight to the cup. That said, you can’t really know until you see the match ups and actually get to the playoffs. Right now odds are in Chicago and Pittsburgh favor to get to the final, but there are so many factors, team match ups, injuries and goal tending to name a few. So go ahead and talk about who you think will win, but please stop throwing out stats like you think that supports your argument, its fucking annoying. I can go back and throw a shitload of stats at you of teams who had horrible uneven regular seasons and still went to the finals.

    I know you guys are capable of more than that.

    • Last season many of the stats guys were predicted the Kings would go deep and possibly win so long as they made it in to the playoffs. They weren’t shocked that an 8th seed won because they knew the team was much better than their record indicated. Stats are about probability so they aren’t a guarantee, but to dismiss them out of hand isn’t wise.

  9. thats a perfect comment j.
    thats y if the leafs get in and they pick up a miller or a kippeer considering he would want to come i think they have a good shot the way there playing

  10. The Pens look good on paper, but everyone knows what is on the paper, strategy-wise.
    Puck turnovers (obviously not all, perhaps not even many) will happen if the other team knows where those pucks are going.
    I am looking forward to how, or if, head coach Dan Bylsma changes his beloved system based on these tremendous aquisitions…

  11. u guys r not looking at the big picture the talent of these players

  12. what a team excellent move for Iginla Flames got something for him

  13. Hahahaha rick must b smoking crack or have his nose in his wifes ass boston aint gunna b in the cup final with LA its gunna b Pens vs Hawks or Ducks

    • Actually I was doing the second. The Rangers have been playing better defense than the Pens. The Pens do not have the D to make it to the Cup finals. It might not be Boston and LA but unless the Pens improve their D they won’t make it to the Cup finals. Minnesota might surprise a lot of people this year. Wouldn’t be surprised to see them take the West.

      • The same Pens who have given up 9 goals in 10 games?

        • Yes they’ve been on a good streak lately but their defense up to that point was very questionable. I’m not convinced their defensive troubles are over or solved.

      • Also, the Rangers have given up 81 goals in 33 games, the Pens have given up 84 goals in 35 games, so the Rangers aren’t really playing better defensively, slightly worse statistically. Not to mention the Rangers are the worst offensive team in the NHL and the Pens are the best offensive team in the NHL.

        • I think the point more is that if you can break their possession game–Philadelphia is great at doing this, and I wouldn’t be surprised if high-pressure teams like LA and NJ can do it, too (NJ has taken 2 of 3 from PIT so far this year, actually)–it’s relatively easy to get them running around in their zone.

          It doesn’t change anything for me–you’re asking someone to maybe go 50/50 with Pittsburgh in shots, and on top of that do a better job offensively in that 50% than Crosby and Malkin, which is very difficult without great goaltending from your netminder and poor goaltending from Fleury/Vokoun.

  14. I’m sorry, but rhyming off a bunch of stats doesn’t make me think Pittsburgh isn’t the favourite. They haven’t lost in a frickin’ month! (Without Iginla, Morrow, or Malkin for half the time.) Can you imagine how excited and motivated Iginla is? He is still a great player and he is going to help Pittsburgh in a million different ways. People who say he is old and slow are in for a reality check. “Slower than before” maybe. But not slow.
    Iginla was finding the net year after year, alone in Calgary without a centre (Craig Conroy and Damond Langkow were Iggy’s best ever centres!) while playing in the tighter checking Western conference with tons of travel. No more time changes and big flights for Iginla, and guaranteed good line mates. I can’t wait to see him having fun again in Pittsburgh.

  15. J
    Not even the Gretzky/Messier Oilers won the Cup without first being willing to play well defensively. Those were pretty “loaded” teams with very good goalies.

    The Pens can score for sure, but they can’t keep the puck out of their own net. No stats needed just look at Goals for (great) and Goals against (not good). Not a recipe for playoff success especially given unpredictable goalies and a couple of rivals who are stronger in this area, have more consistent ‘tenders, and time still to add what they need.

    I’d be happy to see Iggy win a Cup, but he might have made the wrong choice.

    • ” they can’t keep the puck out of their own net.”

      LOL, 9 goals in the last 10 games.

      #FancyStats

    • Fastoil,

      I’m pretty sure you missed the point of my post if you directed that at me, I wasn’t even talking specifically about Pittsburgh, I was just making a general statement that stats are a garbage argument point.

      When I was talking about some teams obviously being favorites going in and having a good shot at the finals, that was again a general statement, and not specifically about Pittsburgh.

      I have my reservation about them as well, but again as I was saying it’s too early to tell in my mind, when we get a better idea of who will be playing who and which teams have all aspects firing close to the playoffs start I’d be willing to make some predictions..

    • Pittsburgh is 7th in the NHL in goals against per game, that is pretty good for a team that isn’t good enough defensively. Not sure why you would consider 7th out of 30 “not good”

  16. Think the Pens are the favorite (coming from a Caps fan none the less) but they need to continue to shore up their goal prevention. I think they need to hope and pray they avoid a Philly matchup. Think Philly isn’t a good team and has no business making the postseason, but Philly is the one team that gets the Pens running around and playing a game chaotic game where anything can and does happen. The Pens get off their game and the free flowing style creates huge mismatches with their D and Fleury doesn’t exactly bail help. Not sure Murray helps this one bit as he isn’t the most mobile guy. A Boston matchup would be great hockey and would love to see 6 or 7 games of good fast smart tough hockey. Hope my Caps watch that series and take some notes.

    • Agree completely. I have the Pens as the favorites because I think their road to the Finals will be a little easier than LA’s. That being said, I’d pick LA over any team. It’s scary how they can come out against another great team in St. Louis and put on a clinic. (What is that, 7 in a row now over the Blues, including playoffs?)

  17. Hemsky is injury prone and would not last long in the playoffs…..if he were to even make it there.

  18. You’re going to sit here and tell me that Ales Hemsky is better than Jarome Iginla?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hfYJsQAhl0

  19. I think a lot of ppl are looking at these trades the wrong way . We don’t need morrow or iggy to carry this team offensive wise. We have the offense we need to win. All we need from them is consistency also we don’t need douglas murray to play 30 min a night or score goals all we need from him is again consistency or as many ppl call it veteran presence. We needed the hunger and the drive and the dirty edge that these players are going to bring. Bringing these guys on board allows the depth players on this team to drop back into the roles they are suited for. There was a reason the penguins scored a short handed goal last night. The penalty kill was energized by not having to play up in the lineup and there focus was squarely on killing penalties not on creating offence 5 on 5.

  20. this staright up, the worst comments thread ever recorded on anything

  21. If Quick gets back to form the rest of the league is completely screwed. As a Blackhawks fan, I’d love my team to win and it’s certainly possible but there are definitely a lot ways it can go wrong. If Halak gets hot St. Louis could be a sleeper this year.

  22. Some of the author’s comments make me laugh. I do financial reporting for a living, and there is an old joke – but true – that you can make numbers say whatever you want them to say. Throwing statistics at me is meaningless. The scoreboard is the only meaningful statistic.

    I fins it amazing that so many people consider Marc-Andre Fleury to be no better than his last horrible playoff experience. Please. Marty Brodeur is considered to be the best goaltender ever and look at how many playoff rounds he has lost. Brodeur gave up two goals in 90 seconds at the end of Game 7 against Carolina in 2009. Does that define his career?

    Overlooked it the fact that Pittsburgh brought back Mark Eaton, who played for the 2009 Cup winner. Pittsburgh’s D has improved significantly since his return. Paul Martin’s play is better than last season.

    Paralysis by analysis – that’s what this is. The facts are that the Eastern Conference stinks outside of Pittsburgh, Montreal, Boston and Ottawa. Everyone else is mediocre or bad. Montreal has little scoring punch and Pittsburgh can wear them down. Pittsburgh beat Boston twice. Ottawa won’t beat Pittsburgh. Brodeur could singlehandedly, but that’s it.

  23. go sux a dick cam charron

  24. Where would one go to learn more about these new-fangled statistics?
    Thanks for a point in the right direction

  25. Thanks for making us the underdogs again! Cheers :-)

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