Penguins Management and Coaching Disconnected

The Pittsburgh Penguins luck finally ran out against the Los Angeles Kings during a 5-3 on Saturday.

They were coming off of a 5-1 win over the San Jose Sharks and the score would indicated they dominated the game, but this was not the case. Against the Sharks, the Penguins couldn’t do anything right at even strength as the shot attempts favored San Jose 61-36. In other words, the Penguins got lucky and finally had some “puck luck” but this shouldn’t be an indicator of solid play.

Fast forward to their 5-3 loss to the Kings and the narrative is eerily similar. Shot attempts favor Los Angeles 55-32 at even strength, so in other words the Penguins didn’t get lucky enough to win. In the last few games, Pittsburgh has played similarly to the Calgary Flames last season. They were absolutely awful possessing the puck, but found themselves in the playoffs due to lucky bounces.

This is how the Penguins have been playing this season and their luck eventually does run out.

Veterans weren’t particularly happy after losing 5-3 to the Kings as the team started slow. One they got rolling it was too little, too late.

Penguins Struggles Coming to a Boiling Point

Rob Scuderi had this to say following their loss to his former team.

We hadn’t played in a while but L.A. hadn’t played since Tuesday either. There is absolutely no excuse for it. I can’t put a finger on it for sure. But that slow start put us behind the 8-ball.

And here’s where the disconnect begins between Penguins management and coaching. Scuderi has been the Penguins worst defender for the last three seasons and no one will argue that. General manager Jim Rutherford knows this and has tried to trade Scuderi, he was even rumored to be involved in the Phil Kessel deal at one point. However, head coach Mike Johnston continues to play Scuderi every night over defenseman Adam Clendening who is a much better fit for his system.

This is just where the disconnect starts, take a look at what Johnston has said about his system when first taking over the Penguins.

Our backside defense are very important in escaping our zone and eventually getting the right type of attack going, but your centers are critical. To move the puck through the middle of the ice and distribute it as you enter the offensive zone is very important.

Sounds like a lot of emphasis is placed on defensemen moving the puck, making smart decisions and the blue line is the source of offense in Johnston’s system.

Ask anyone, anyone, who’s watched the Penguins over the last three seasons and they’ll all be able to agree on one thing. Scuderi is not a fit for this system whatsoever and he’s an anchor on whoever he plays with.

Take a look at the goal he could have easily prevented against the Kings the other night.

He’s been a negative influence on the ice and no amount of “veteran intangibles” can justify his place in the lineup. Yet, when asked about Scuderi’s play alongside Kris Letang here’s what assistant coach Gary Agnew said.

Yeah, and I think Scuds has helped him. You have to understand that Scuds is a real steadying influence on our entire group. He’s got so much experience. When we’re panicking and getting buried by another team’s forecheck, Scuds is the one who calms everyone down. He does it very well and we’re going to keep asking him to do that. He’s like that with whoever his defense partner is. And I think he’s been a very good influence on Kris.

And this isn’t the first time that Agnew has defended Scuderi’s play. Here’s what he said all the way back on October 5th.

Rob Scuderi is a good player. There’s absolutely a place for him on this team, with the way we’re going to do things. Is there a place for Rob Scuderi on our blue line? Certainly there is. No doubt about it. There is a place for him. I mean, look at his penalty killing and his leadership.

Scuderi was never even worried he wouldn’t have a spot in the lineup.

Yes, there’s a lot of young talent on this blue line, no question. And that’s great. That’s all part of it. But I’ve never heard of a team out there that’s decided to go with six offensive defensemen.

The problem is that coaching continues to say one thing and do another. Scuderi should, at the very least, be occasionally scratched to allow a puck moving defender like Adam Clendening to play. Scuderi has been a healthy scratch for the Penguins just once this season, Clendening was given his spot and the Penguins won 2-0 over the Ottawa Senators.

But this disconnect between coaching and management isn’t just with Scuderi. It’s with just about everything from Daniel Sprong not even playing to line combinations.

Jim Rutherford took what Johnston wanted to do and built a team around it. If used properly, the Penguins are an up-tempo puck possession team and they would be really good at it if that was still their system. For all of the talk about puck possession and defensemen jumping into the play, it hasn’t happened. Instead, Pittsburgh continues to play a dump and chase system and their star power is wasting away.

There’s something missing from the Penguins beyond just the system. They rarely start games playing hard and they’re missing some sort of spark. When Sprong has been in the lineup, he’s provided that and after the end of his shifts, the team picks up their play. However, he can’t help much if he’s sitting the press box every night, and it’s not like Rutherford doesn’t want Sprong playing.

The Penguins have been saying one thing and doing another for quite sometime. I’m not sure what extent Rutherford has talked with Johnston, but it might be time he sits down and has an open meeting with coaching staff. The team has gotten away from the fundamentals that Johnston praised so often early in his time with the Penguins and improper use of player personnel has only made a bad situation worse.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave your comments below or tweet me anytime @MPityk_PIT