Coach Mike Sullivan‘s lines are always changing, but the surest thing is that Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel will skate together in 2019-20. The other top-line wing position, though, is up for grabs.
One candidate is Jared McCann, the speedy former Florida Panther. So, how did McCann fare during his top-line audition last year? When McCann skated with both Crosby and Guentzel during five-on-five play, the Penguins created 54.3 percent of total shots, 57 percent of scoring chances and 58.3 percent of goals, according to Natural Stat Trick. McCann clearly got a boost from Sid and Guentzel. When he skated without those two, the Penguins had 47.8 percent of total shots, 51.1 percent of scoring chances and 50 percent of goals. When Crosby and Guentzel skated at even strength with a winger other than McCann, meanwhile, the Penguins had 55.2 percent of shots, 56.9 percent of scoring chances and 67.7 percent of goals.
The bottom line: McCann had decent chemistry with Crosby and Guentzel, but those two stars had success with virtually every winger who took the ice with them.
• I laugh at danger: Matt Murray re-established himself as one of the game’s best young goalies last season, in no small part thanks to his performance against opponents’ most lethal shot attempts. Corsica Hockey tracks the quality of shots that goalies faced based on factors like shot distance, shot angle, shot type and game situation. They categorize shots as high, medium and low danger based on those factors. During his relatively down 2017-18 campaign, Murray had a 78 percent high-danger save rate during even-strength play. That ranked 57th among NHL goalies. Last year, Murray boosted his high-danger save rate to 83.9 percent. That placed 11th among goalies, and eighth among netminders with 1,000+ minutes of five-on-five ice time. When the Penguins needed a key save, Murray rose to the occasion.
• I am the danger: The Penguins unleashed the fourth-most shots among NHL teams, but you could make the case that the quality of those shots didn’t quite reach the impeccable standards that they set in recent years. The HockeyViz website tracks the “threat level” of a team’s shots compared to the league average, based on many of the same factors described in the note above about Murray. In 2018-19, the Penguins had a shot threat level that was 8 percent above the NHL average during five-on-five play. Pretty good. But that’s down from a +13 percent threat level in 2017-18, and a +18 percent threat level during the second of their back-to-back Stanley Cup wins in 2016-17. The offense is still dangerous, but it’s not as scary as it was during their recent Cup-winning days.