The Crosby vs. Toews "Debate"

It probably went unnoticed by most fans, but Tuesday’s game 7 between the Penguins and Rangers was more than just a hockey game. It was nothing less than a culture war.


On the one side, there were the old school pundits. On Tuesday morning, Kevin Allen of USA Today was musing about the Penguins’ lack of “playoff savvy” and “swagger” and how they might learn something from the Chicago Blackhawks, who play like “they expect to win” and, if they lose, will “saddle up and ride harder” next year.


Meanwhile, Katie Strang of ESPN was back to predicting a Ranger win on the strength of Henrik Lundqvist’s heroic goaltending, a “stalled” Penguins superstar, and a team that was “peaking at the right time”.


On the other side of the debate – outnumbered and unable to invoke narratives that have the surface appeal of the 15th installment of the Rocky movie franchise – were people trafficking in nothing more than plain boring facts.


Sportsnet columnist Chris Boyle was one of those people.


Boyle took to Twitter on Tuesday to explain why those slagging Sidney Crosby shouldn’t pretend Jonathan Toews is a superhero who has never seen a slump.


Yes Toews has won two Stanley Cups and Crosby only one.


But, as Boyle pointed out, Crosby put up monster numbers both times he made cup appearances (27 points in 20 games in 2008-09 and 31 points in 24 games when he hoisted the following year).


Toews, meanwhile, had a strong playoff when the Blackhawks won in 2009-10 (29 points in 22 games), but when he had an abysmal run last year (14 points in 23 games), his team picked up the slack.


The guy who’s supposed to be the spark plug by which his team succeeds or fails and its undisputed leader was their 5th leading playoff scorer and his team won it all anyway?


If I were rolling with a crew like that, I’d have some swagger myself.

While it’s true Crosby only had one goal in 13 games, he was dominant in every other respect during these playoffs.


His Fenwick % during 5 on 5 play was an absurd 59.3%, meaning when he was on the ice, the Penguins had nearly 1.5 unblocked shots at the net for every one their opponents generated.  This was good for 10th among all skaters during the playoffs and significantly ahead of Toews, who was 69th (51.9%).


Crosby’s shooting percentage (Sh%) was a ridiculously low 2.6%, well below his regular season career average of 14.8% and his playoff career average of 13.3%.


Meanwhile, Toews’ 5 goals in the first two rounds owed a lot to his Sh% of 22.7%, which is well above his regular season career average of 15.1% and his playoff career average of 10.8%.


Now before we start inventing fantasies about players who know how to “battle through adversity”, Toews’ 3 goal playoff disaster last year had a lot to do with his Sh% of 4.3%.


This isn’t a knock on Toews. He’s undoubtedly a great player, but there appears to be a double standard here. A veteran player’s Sh% bounces around a lot during his career, but over time it tends towards an average.


Toews had bad luck last year and Crosby did this year. Toews’ teammates bailed him out.  Crosby’s couldn’t.


Why not? The chart below shows for each of the 8 second round teams the percentage of their regular season goals scored by their top 2 scorers.


Of the Penguins’ 261 goals, 28.51% came from Crosby and linemate Chris Kunitz. That was roughly on par with Minnesota (28.50%), a team that also started making golf plans Tuesday night.


The Rangers, meanwhile, got only 21.10% of their goals from their top 2 scorers, which was slightly better than the Blackhawks (23.97%).


Because the Penguins live and die by their top scorers in a way other elite teams don’t, their best player doesn’t have the luxury of being 5th best in scoring and still winning hockey games in June.


Marc-Andre Fleury gave up 2 goals on his first 12 shots Tuesday night, capping off a series in which he had 2 shutouts but posted a .888 SV% in the other 5 games. Not surprisingly, the Penguins lost 4 of those 5 games to a team they outshot consistently but which had a much better goaltender.

Pittsburgh needs to add depth in the offseason for sure, but the superstars aren’t the problem.

Department of Hockey Analytics - Culture War - May 14, 2014


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