Predicting Which Pittsburgh Penguins Will Have the Highest Plus/Minus Rating
After a string of recent playoff disappointments, another category has garnered added attention for the Pens: the plus/minus category, which measures goal differential at even strength.
As the Pens look to become a more complete team and, once again, compete for the Stanley Cup, the plus/minus category will gain increased importance, both during the regular season and the postseason.
Having completed the first 10 games of a long schedule, let's look at the Pens most likely to lead the team in plus/minus in the 2013-2014 regular season.
Ever since Rob Scuderi left the Penguins following their 2009 Stanley Cup-winning season, GM Ray Shero has been in search of a stay-at-home defenseman who could eat up a lot of ice time and shutdown the opponent's top line.
It took four years of searching, but Shero was finally able to find such a defenseman in... Rob Scuderi, who signed a four-year deal to return to the Pens after playing the past four seasons with the Los Angeles Kings.
While he played more of a defense-first system with the Kings and usually faced the opponent's top line, Scuderi figures to see a lot of ice time with the Pens' top-two lines as Kris Letang's partner, which means he will see more of the opponent's checking lines, which will improve his recent plus/minus stats.
As one of the new breed of mobile and offensive-gifted defensemen, Kris Letang has become a shut-down defensemen of a different kind.
Often playing alongside the Pens' top lines, Letang spends a lot of time in the offensive zone rather than in the defensive zone at even strength which is reflected in his plus/minus total of plus-52 over the past three seasons.
With the advantage of having a reliable and steady partner in Rob Scuderi, Letang will have the freedom to be even more involved in the offensive zone which should put him at, or near, the top of the team's plus/minus leaders.
While the top plus/minus players are usually the best defensive players, dominant offensive players who play alongside other dominant players have their own way of amassing impressive plus/minus stats.
As part of the NHL's most dangerous line, along with Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz has had the luxury of playing against the opposition's top defensive line and the freedom to focus more on scoring than defending.
A disciplined player with a tally of plus-10 in 10 games thus far this season, Kunitz is off to a strong start and, as part of a unit that was a combined plus-87 last season, should be among the team's plus/minus leaders by season's end.
While much has been made of Sidney Crosby's exceptional talent and skill level, one of his most often ignored attributes is his desire to consistently improve his game and the willingness to put in the effort to do so.
While prolific offensive talents like Crosby have always been defined more by goals and assists than by their plus/minus stats, Crosby has shown a newfound commitment to his defensive game, often coming back deeper into the defensive zone than usual.
This new and improved defensive commitment, coupled with his league leading point totals thus far, has made Crosby the NHL's most-complete player and one of the team's likely leaders in plus/minus by season's end.
Acquired in the deal that brought Marian Hossa to the Penguins in 2008, Pascal Dupuis has gone from being a jack of all trades and master of none, to being a fixture on the Pens' top line.
Blessed with great speed and a hard shot, Dupuis also possesses great defensive instincts and a third-line work ethic, which is why he is a plus-65 over the past three seasons, including a team-leading plus-31 last season.
With the team's newly found defensive focus, compliments of new assistant coach Jacques Martin, the Pens will look to be a more balanced team, which should play to Dupuis' strengths and have him at, or near, the top of the team and the NHL in the plus/minus category.