The Pittsburgh Penguins are 3 and 4 to start their season, potentially on the way to a coaching change. Their record indicates that the team has been playing much better than they actually have. Through their last 27 (including playoff games) they are 8-19 and have not even averaged 1.75 goals for per-game.
It’s been boom or bust for the undeniably talented Penguins offense. They have been held to one or no goals scored during 14 of those 27 and there has been no response from the team.
But certainly not all of the fault of their poor performance is on the players. Head coach Mike Johnston is a very smart man and he’s shown he is capable of adjusting rapidly, and he needs to do so, right now. His player deployment has been poor and his team can’t score or defend.
Penguins Need Youth and Correct Player Usage
Johnston might not be on the hot seat yet, but it’s beginning to warm up. There is no reason that a 36-year old Chris Kuntiz should be skating on the top line with Sidney Crosby. I’ve long defended Kunitz because I thought he could bounce back from an injury plagued year. But the longer the season goes, it’s clear his legs and hands are gone. Yet, Kunitz was on the ice for 19:37 against the Dallas Stars and for over half of the Penguins power play time. Meanwhile, Patric Hornqvist was on the ice for just 15:27 and only a quarter of their power play time. There is no comparison between Kunitz and Hornqvist at this point, the latter is clearly the better player and more of a scoring threat.
Prior to last night, Olli Maatta, the team’s second best defender, was on the ice for the second least of any Penguin defender. Here’s a list of the players who had more time on ice than Maatta; Kris Letang, Ian Cole, Ben Lovejoy and Rob Scuderi. The only one on that list who legitimately deserves the ice time they have been given is Cole.
But let’s go back a few games, remember when the Penguins were 0-3? Johnston changed the lineup, Scuderi was scratched for Adam Clendening, while Daniel Sprong and Bryan Rust played key roles. The Penguins won the game 2-0.
The very next game, Johnston was back to the original lineup. It does not make sense to run back to a lineup that clearly was not working, and we’re seeing the results of that. It might have worked for the two games that followed the 2-0 win over the Ottawa Senators, but it won’t work moving forward.
Then there’s the issue of Sprong. According to the NHL collective bargaining agreement, Sprong can play in 9 games before the Penguins have to decide to burn a year of his entry-level contract or not. I personally think he should stay in Pittsburgh for the season, but it seems Johnston does not feel the same.
Instead of Sprong playing against Dallas, after the issues with his work visa were resolved, he was a healthy scratch. Yes, I am fully away that was in an effort to put Pascal Dupuis into the lineup, but to play Bobby Farnham, Kevin Porter or even Kunitz over Sprong is ludicrous.
Mike Johnston is not on the hot seat, yet. Sure, Penguins management are not happy with his, or his player’s performances, but he still has some leash left. Johnston needs to adapt like he’s proven capable of and play his skaters correctly.
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