Why the Pittsburgh Penguins Aren't Lucky to Have Series Lead After Game 3

Franklin Steele@FranklinSteeleAnalyst IIApril 23, 2014

Pittsburgh Penguins' Lee Stempniak, left, celebrates his goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets' during the third period of a first-round NHL playoff hockey game Monday, April 21, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio. The Penguins defeated the Blue Jackets 4-3. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
Jay LaPrete

There's a notion floating around that the Pittsburgh Penguins are lucky to have a 2-1 series lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Maybe that's because it's so fun to root for the underdogs. Maybe it's because non-Penguins fans always dig for reasons to pile onto Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury. Regardless of the reason, that's the storyline right now.

That the Penguins should be thankful for their 2-1 series lead.

In the eyes of many, Fleury was in the midst of another collapse in Game 3. The power play was visibly struggling to produce chances, and the only saving grace was that Sergei Bobrovsky (apparently) thought it was a race to see which goalie could let down his team in the most monstrous fashion.

The man they call "Bob" in Columbus allowed three goals in the third period, allowing the Penguins to win a game that some pundits don't feel they should have won. For instance, Sarah Kwak of Sports Illustrated wrote that Pittsburgh "rallied" to win Game 3.

It might seem nitpicky, but the Penguins didn't simply rally. They broke through—and yes, there is a difference. This isn't a lucky team at all. If anything, the numbers indicate that Pittsburgh has been decidedly unlucky in its quarterfinal series.

2013-14 NHL Playoff PDO Leaders
TeamPDOSeries Advantage
Montreal Canadiens109.3Won 4-0
New York Rangers108.2Lead 2-1
Boston Bruins106.8Lead 2-1
Anaheim Ducks105.9Lead 2-1
San Jose Sharks104.1Lead 3-0
Colorado Avalanche103.6Lead 2-1
St. Louis Blues101.5Lead 2-1
Columbus Blue Jackets101.1Trail 2-1
Pittsburgh Penguins98.9Lead 2-1

PDO is the best statistical measure for puck luck that we have at this point. It's true that such a small sample size will cause the number to balloon for teams that are winning, but this chart still illustrates a strong point: Among teams that are leading their quarterfinal series, Pittsburgh has had the worst puck luck. One hundred is considered dead-on average, while anything too far over 100 is considered unsustainable.

In terms of PDO, Columbus is the highest ranked team that is trailing in its series. Pittsburgh is the lowest ranked team that is leading its series.

If the Penguins weren't driving the play and hanging onto the puck so often, these PDO stats might be misleading. That isn't the case though, as the Penguins are among the NHL's leaders in the playoffs when it comes to possessing the puck.

2013-14 NHL Playoff Corsi-For Percentage Leaders
TeamCF%Series Advantage
Minnesota Wild58.2%Trailing 2-1
Pittsburgh Penguins54.9%Leading 2-1
Montreal Canadiens54.0%Won 4-0
Detroit Red Wings53.7%Trailing 2-1
New York Rangers52.8%Leading 2-1

Again, the sample size is small, but the implication is easy to see. Pittsburgh has been driving the play in the first three games, has a series lead to show for it, and hasn't been particularly lucky along the way.

Consider that the Blue Jackets are 15th out of the 16 playoff teams in corsi-for percentage with a 45.1.

Maybe that isn't enough to convince you though. Maybe you still think that the Penguins should be thankful to be ahead. That might have stuck after Game 2, when the Blue Jackets outshot Pittsburgh 45-42, but the Penguins largely dominated Game 3.

Their 41-20 shot lead was staggering, and you'll be hard pressed to find a wider margin in the first round of the postseason. If PDO tends to trend towards 100, and if possessing the puck tends to lead to victory, then the Penguins aren't lucky to hold a 2-1 lead at all.

There are some issues to iron out, to be sure. Fleury can't allow soft goals, and the power play needs to step up in a big way. Those problems haven't prevented Pittsburgh from taking what rightfully belongs to it, however—a 2-1 series lead heading into a pivotal Game 4 in Columbus.

The Penguins have been a lot of things during the entire 2013-14 campaign. Lucky just isn't one of them.