In part 1 of this series I concluded Evgeni Malkin should average 15-19 minutes time on ice a game to maximize both personal and team success. In each subsequent part, I tackle one of the arguments against this conclusion.
Argument 1: Of course the Pens win more when he plays less. He’d naturally have reduced ice time in games they were already winning. That’s why he has such a high ppg average. They rack up a lead and then they back off his ice time to rest him.
For sheer amount of games and numbers, I decided to look only at games where Malkin played 18 minutes or less, but I did his entire regular season career up to the end of the 2015-2016 season. This totalled 113 games with a team record of 102-11 (0.903 win %).
At first glance I thought I was in trouble. In these 113 games the Pens outscored the opposition 463-212, including 22 shutouts. That’s a shutout 19% of the time in career games where Malkin plays less than 18 minutes. The team averaged over 4.0 goals for a game, and conceded only 1.87!! 71 himself had at least one point in all but 28 games. It appeared they really were just killing teams so they mercifully kept him off the ice to avoid running up the score.
Even I was surprised at how wrong this was.
While Evgeni Malkin registered a point in 85 of the 113 games(75%), he only registered a first period point in 38(34%), or a third of them. He only had multiple point first periods 6 times and in none of them did he get more than two points. Of his 153 points, this means only 44 of them were in the first period. This is quite good for an individual, but not enough to support the claim a career record of 102-11 is because he racks up early points and then gets rested. His 0.38 first period point per game average also doesn’t explain his 1.35 ppg overall. His time can’t be front loaded. He must still be getting on the ice later in these games, and meaningfully producing.
What about the team though? Well, out of 463 goals for, just 145 were scored in the first period. That’s less than a third at 31%. Not overly convincing out of the gate. In 33 games they didn’t even score the first goal. I understand that means in 80 games they did get the first goal, so percentage wise it’s still high, but we’re talking about a 102-11 record here. Those 80 first period goals aren’t the deal breaker. In fact, in 49 games the Pens were either tied or behind after the first 20 minutes.
So I looked at the second period team results.
I broke the games down into 5 categories(1 goal lead after 2 periods, tied after 2, down after 2, tied at some point in the second, and down at some point in second). I only counted each game in one category. For instance, a game that was tied 2-2 in the second and then ended 3-2 after 2 would only be counted in the “1 goal lead after 2” category, and wouldn’t be included in the “tied at some point in the second” category.
27 times the Penguins were only up by 1 goal after two periods. They were tied after two 12 times and were actually down after two 9 times. 9 games were also tied at some point in the second and 7 times they were actually down at some point in the second period.
This totals 64 games. What this means is that 56% of these games were still in doubt during the second period, and 48 of them were conclusively still anybody’s game even after 40 complete minutes.
Now, to be honest, there were some games where it was very close during the second period but wasn’t as close by the end of 40 minutes. For example, in the 2014-2015 season the Penguins had a game where they were down 3-1 in the second but headed into the third up 5-3. But there were also games not included in the categories above, such as a game in 2006-2007 where the Pens were up 2-0 after two but ended up 2-2 after 3 periods and won in a shootout.
The bottom line is the majority of these games are ones where you’re not sitting Malkin because you don’t think you need him.
Whatever the reason for the overwhelming success when Malkin plays reduced minutes, it’s not because games are won early.