Penguins Must Change Team Culture

The Pittsburgh Penguins have started the season much slower than many anticipated. Despite beating the Nashville Predators two goals to one, the team did not look effective. They were lazy in their own end and the Predators defense shutdown the Penguins offense for most of the game.

Star power was the reason the Penguins beat the Predators and it’s the same reason team is 4-4 right now. Recently, they’ve been outworked by opponents, outscored and intimidated, particularly by the Predators and the Dallas Stars.

Is A Coaching Change Needed?

A lot of the blame has fallen on head coach Mike Johnston and initially we gave him the benefit of the doubt. However, he has failed to get his superstars to produce much of anything. As it currently stands, the Penguins will continue to win games if Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel will them to victory. This should not be a shock to anyone as these four stars account for over 45% of their salary cap.

But not everything has been bad for the Penguins. Some games, they have ferociously outworked and out-shot their opponents, but have been extremely unlucky. The Penguins have converted on just 5.0% of shots taken in eight games. The only team to have a lower conversion percentage is the Anaheim Ducks at 3.1%.

Johnston has been the focal point of the Penguins struggles. However, he’s shown that he’s trying to fix the problem. Line combinations have been changed almost every night in an attempt to generate offense. Yet, there is still a problem with offensive production and it stems from the power play. The Penguins have had 28 power play opportunities, but they have only converted on two of them. That’s a power play effectiveness rate of 7.14% and you guessed, the Ducks are lower at 5.26%.

Given the talent the Penguins have, why are they struggling?

The Departure of Brooks Orpik

Do not think for a minute that the Penguins struggles are a result of longtime Penguin defender Brooks Orpik signing a five-year/$27.5 million contract with the Washington Capitals. They gave him both too much money and too much tenure. But i’d like to focus on something he said after leaving the Penguins.

This was what Orpik said to the media all the way back on December 24, 2014.

There was something not right last year. Something needed to change. I thought guys were affected by the outside pressure. There is a standard in Pittbsurgh that is tough. We’d win games people would still be criticizing us. There was so much pressure from the outside and that was something that wore on guys.

Repeatedly, Orpik said that playing hockey in Pittsburgh lost it’s luster after a while.

This is the Penguins fundamental problem. From the outside you might think, how can playing hockey for the Pittsburgh Penguins not be fun? They’re professional athletes making millions of dollars to play a children’s game. However, consider the expectations and attitudes that have followed the Penguins since drafting Crosby, Malkin, Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury. That type of pressure that has followed this team has simply not made it fun to play in Pittsburgh anymore.

Their superstars are Crosby, Malkin, Letang, Kessel and Fleury. Yet, all of these players are reserved people by nature. Fleury’s got a reputation of making games, practices and the locker room a fun and inviting place, but that’s where it stops. Sure, Crosby spends hours talking to the media, hours that many others would not spend if they had his talent. Malkin’s english has improved over the years, but he’s far from a vocal leader. Kessel accepted a trade to the Penguins to escape media tyranny and it’s understood he’s a shy fellow. Letang while extremely talented, is also rather on the quiet side.

Does Johnston need to be fired? No, at least not yet. Give him some time to try and get through to his superstars. But playing hockey needs to be fun in Pittsburgh again. Things like this should be regular, not an exception.

And as much as it pains me to say this, but the departure of Brandon Sutter did leave a hole in the Penguins. Sure, Nick Bonino is an upgrade of Sutter as a third line center, but he’s no where near the same person as Sutter.

A culture change is needed in Pittsburgh. The team needs to combat all of these expectations and pressure by making the game fun once again and part of that starts by trusting their youth.

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