What Makes the Pittsburgh Penguins so Dominant at Home?

Franklin Steele@FranklinSteeleAnalyst IIJanuary 10, 2014

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 5:  Matt Niskanen #2 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his game winning goal with Olli Maatta #3 during the third period against the Winnipeg Jets on January 5, 2014 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh won the game 6-5.  (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)
Joe Sargent/Getty Images

When it comes to winning on home ice, few teams in the NHL can match the Pittsburgh Penguins. With a 19-3-0 record, the team has the most home wins in the league, and the third-best winning percentage (.864), trailing only the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks in that regard.

It's not like they've been awful on the road—the Penguins are the fifth-best away team in the NHL—but it's clear that they've been able to elevate their collective game while playing in front of the hometown crowd.

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 5:  Jussi Jokinen #36 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his goal with teammates during the second period against the Winnipeg Jets on January 5, 2014 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Joe Sargent/
Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Where does the difference come from though? A 19-3 record is very different from a 13-9-1 record, which is how Pittsburgh has fared away from the Consol Energy Center.

The first assumption would be that head coach Dan Bylsma is able to secure more favorable matchups for his star-studded lineup. Getting Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin out on the ice against the Matt Bartkowskis and Brian Lashoffs of the world is certainly favorable to seeing Zdeno Chara or Niklas Kronwall on every shift.

No. 87 hasn't been notably stronger on home ice though. 35 of his 65 points have come while enjoying the comforts of Consol. That's not a very big gap. He only averages 15 more seconds of ice time while on the road, so that isn't a difference maker either.

Malkin has actually been better while playing away games. 25 of his 45 points come in contests where the Penguins are wearing the white sweaters instead of the black ones.

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 3:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his goal with the bench during the second period against the New York Rangers on January 3, 2014 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory S
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Overall, Pittsburgh has the sixth highest away goal total while sporting the fourth highest home goal total. Again, the discrepancy doesn't explain the gap in records.

Perhaps it's the banged up defense that's been able to take advantage of better matchups while at the CEC then. At home, Pittsburgh has given up 78 goals in 22 contests—good for eighth in the NHL. On the road, they've allowed 61 goals in 23 games, which is 11th in the league.

There goes another theory. It seems that Pittsburgh's ragtag group of defenders has actually performed better while wearing the road whites.

Maybe it's the special teams then. Maybe the Penguins are able to dominate with the extra man and on the penalty kill at home.

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 21:  Chris Kunitz #14 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the Calgary Flames on December 21, 2013 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Pittsburgh's 93.1% home penalty-kill rate is tops in the NHL by a small margin. They've only seen the opposition score with the extra man four times out of 58 tries. Not too shabby. The road PK stands at a rock solid 85.53% though, which is good for sixth in the league.

While the Penguins typically take more penalties during away games (3.3 penalties per game on the road vs 2.6 while at home) that still doesn't explain their nearly immaculate record at the Consol while performing noticeably worse while away.

They're only 0.73% more effective on the power play at home, so the answer doesn't appear to be there either.

So if it's not the offense or the defense and there's no noticeable difference in special teams, perhaps it's the netminding?

Marc-Andre Fleury Home Performance vs Away performance
Save Percentage.935%.895%

Whammy. There it is.

At the Consol Energy Center, Marc-Andre Fleury plays like a Vezina candidate. His home GAA would be good for fourth-best in the NHL if 1.91 were his overall number. His .935 save percentage would be tied for first, matching Ben Bishop.

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 25: Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins misses the puck to loose in overtime against the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden on November 25, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
Steve Babineau/Getty Images

Fleury seems to struggle to stop pucks with the same level of consistency on the road, however. His 2.64 GAA would be 24th in the league, trailing the likes of Tim Thomas and Justin Peters. The .895 save percentage holds up even worse—that number would be good for 43rd in the league, with only two netminders performing more poorly.

Do the Penguins want Fleury barely outplaying Kevin Poulin and Anders Lindback while on the road? More importantly, can Pittsburgh survive a seven-game series with their No. 1 goalie totally caving in every time he's not playing in front of a home crowd?

It's not likely.

This is another reason why the Penguins absolutely have to upgrade their backup netminder for this season. While Fleury's resurgence has been a key talking point throughout this campaign, it appears that the overall numbers may lie a bit.

He's been anything but clutch away from home, and that simply won't fly against tougher competition once the postseason rolls around. Lights-out play from Fleury has been the key to Pittsburgh's dominance at home, but his play on the road could eventually unravel anything positive that has come out of this season so far.