The Pittsburgh Penguins somehow have a winning record. After their 4-3 victory over the Minnesota Wild last night, they have a record of 11-7, and something still is not right with this team. Head coach Mike Johnston has taken a lot of flak this season and deservedly so, there are quite a few people who believe his job is in jeopardy. Luckily for Johnston, general manager Jim Rutherford has kept faith in his second year head coach.
Well, he’s doing a good job. But our team is still not at the level it should be. We are creeping in the right direction, though. We have a couple of levels still to go. That comes with confidence, with the right people being in the right place, and getting the right combinations. We’re moving in the right direction.
That quote was from five days ago, and was prior to embarrassing losses to the Columbus Blue Jackets and the New Jersey Devils.
Taking a Look At Mike Johnston’s Mistakes
Last night, the Penguins beat the Minnesota Wild 4-3 and overall it was a solid performance for the team. The biggest issue that still remains is the lack of scoring. You can look at four goals scored and think the offense played fairly well, but look who was a part of every single goal, Evgeni Malkin.
He’s arguably one of the top-five players in the NHL, although I would argue he should be even higher. When Malkin is healthy and hungry, he’s the best player in the league, but the problem is that he’s not always dominant. When Geno is at his finest, no one can stop him, and that’s what happened last night against the Wild as he scored two goals and assisted on the other two.
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) November 18, 2015
Yet, despite the solid outing, Johnston remains on the hot seat. Last night was the first night that the Penguins weren’t playing a dump and chase system and they scratched defender Rob Scuderi. Is it a coincidence that the Penguins played well with all six defenders capable of moving the puck? Or is it a coincidence that the stars were finally playing in a system that fits their skill set?
No, neither of these are unrelated, both significantly contributed to the Penguins success. Defender Adam Clendening was given the start instead of Scuderi, and you saw the goal above, that would not have happened without Clendening. To create this play he sent a beautiful pass from the Penguins red line all the way to Phil Kessel as he was streaking through the neutral zone.
Scuderi physically could not make that pass, and Pittsburgh needs to remember that.
It should not have taken 18 games for either of these things to have occurred. Having Crosby and Malkin dump and chase the puck is a horrific idea, let them use their talent and drive the center by carrying the puck.
LRT: @MPityk's #Pens piece is spot on. With talent they have, they should probably not play dump & chase. (No one should play dump & chase)
— The 4th Line Hockey Podcast (@4thLinePodcast) November 16, 2015
The blame falls on Johnston and no one else. Sure, he’s written a few books on hockey strategy, but one this is his first experience working with professional players and last season should have taught him a few things.
Mike Johnston’s Tenure By The Numbers
- Overall record of 54-34-12
- 2014-15 Penguins scored 221 goals, three below the league average
- 2015-16 Penguins have scored 40 goals, nine below the league average
- Sidney Crosby’s Production under other coaches: 1.43 points-per-game
- Sidney Crosby’s Production under Johnston: .99 points-per-game
- Penguins were shutout 4.9% of games under Bylsma
- Penguins have been shutout 10.1% of games under Johnston
- Crosby failed to record a point in approximately 20% of games under former coaches
- Under Johnston, Crosby has been held scoreless 45% of games
Almost every scoring statistic under Johnston has taken a turn for the worse. He wants to play defensively focused hockey, but when you have Crosby and Malkin, that isn’t a good plan. It shouldn’t surprise anyone either, Johnston came to the NHL directly from the juniors and down there, offense is rampant and teams have to focus on defensive play to keep scoring from reaching astronomical levels. However, this is the NHL and it’s an entirely different game.
Johnston’s job isn’t safe right now and if the Penguins continue to struggle like this for much longer, he could find himself out of a job. He’s proven to be adaptable, but he needs to learn from mistakes quicker.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave your comments below or tweet me anytime @MPityk
Michael Pityk is an analyst who has written for numerous sites since beginning his professional career. He’s acted as a credentialed member of the media for the Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh Penguins. His work has been featured in Sports Illustrated, The Sports Journal, MSN, PensLabyrinth, Montreal Hockey Talk, ESPN Pittsburgh, The Hockey Writers, Todays SlapShot and The Bleacher Report. He formerly was the editor of Pens Labyrinth and an analyst for The Sports Journal. Michael presently acts as an NHL Analyst for The Hockey Writers