Johnston, Agnew Out. Sullivan, Martin In.

JohnstonI want to begin this article by apologizing to everyone who actually keeps up with my blog.  I know it may not be many, but I have not been posting nearly as much as I would like.

For me, I got late into the semester and just found that I was so busy and did not have time to write.

But I assure you, recap articles are coming back, a Q and A will be coming up soon, and I’ll be getting back on track now that finals (for the most part) are over.

Anyways, let’s move onto the news of the day: Mike Johnston (and Gary Agnew for that matter) are finally gone.  It surprisingly took the Rutherford 28 games to make the move.   The Penguins are  currently 15-10-3 and not in the playoff picture, keeping in mind that this includes a stretch where they went 9-1 in a 10 game span.  Take those 10 games away, and the Penguins are 6-9-3.

Under Johnston, the Penguins ranked (oh what fun it is to use past tense when talking about Johnston) 27th in goals for per game (2.36), 27th on the power play (15.6%), 6th in goals against (2.32), and 19th in Corsi for percentage (48.3%).  For those of you that do not know, Corsi for percentage basically tells you how often your team has possession of the puck.

The only reason the goals against isn’t also horrendous is because of the guy playing the role of brick wall.  Because it certainly is not the talent of the defensive corps.  That being said, I want to once again acknowledge the pairing of Dumoulin and Lovejoy.  These 2 continue to be the shutdown pair night in and night out, so props to these 2 guys.

But without Fleury, the goals against would be probably right around that 27th range, considering the Penguins are allowing the 3rd most shots against per game at 31.8.  Letang has not been nearly what anyone expected him to be this year, many even thought he could win a Norris including myself but that is not going to happen.  Cole has been awful as of late.  Scuderi shouldn’t be in the NHL…

Anyways, Fleury has been doing everything he can to help this team win.  And honestly, he is a big reason as to why Mike Johnston’s firing did not happen earlier, as he was able to help the Penguins maintain a somewhat respectable record.

Heck, Evgeni Malkin kept Johnston behind the bench for a few more games after that ridiculous run he had after calling out the team against New Jersey.

Even Beau Bennett may have gave Johnston one more game, as he helped the Penguins mount a comeback 2 games ago against the Avalanche while scoring 2 goals in the 3rd period.

All of that being said, Johnston is finally gone.  An early Christmas present.  Thanks Santa.

I do want to say this:  Johnston is not a terrible coach.  The players respected him for the most part, according to GMJR’s interview today, and his philosophy was not bad.  His problem was that he was with the wrong team.

After a 2-1 loss against the Ducks, he said that the Penguins need to tighten up defensively….

You’re kidding right?  A team with Crosby, Malkin, Kessel and co. need to tighten up defensively after losing 2-1?  Give me a break… They need to start scoring goals is what they need to do.

Sullivan

So who was hired?  Mike Sullivan.  Who is he?  Oh, you know, the guy who has Wilkes-Barre at a 18-5 record with one of the top offenses (3rd) in the AHL.  I have faith Sullivan can be that guy to really bring a spark to this offense.  Plus, who remembers last time the Penguins made a mid-season coaching change?

2009 cup

Yeah, that.

So now that you are up to speed, I want to share some of my personal opinions on what Sullivan can do to really get this team rolling.

1. Let the stars play their game

From my understanding based off of what I have read from multiple sources, Johnston was extremely structured and wanted his players to play a certain way.  He really was a junior coach.  These coaches tend to want more structure and need to be more of a mentor to the younger hockey players.  In the NHL, the coach should not be all that influential.  Let the stars play their game.

I watched an interview with Sullivan, and he was quoted saying this:

“I’ve always been a believer that you have to allow your top players the latitude to make plays and act on their instincts.  There’s a fine line as a coach between making sure you stay out of the way in certain circumstances but you provide the necessary structure so that you don’t become a high risk team.”

I love this.  Guys like Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel need to cut loose and start doing what they’re getting paid to do: score.  If Sullivan words are true, I’m excited to see what could happen to this offense.

2. Young guns

I just find it hilarious that in Johnston’s last game, after being told multiple times by GMJR to play Clendening/Sprong, he plays Scuderi over Clendening when the Penguins needed a puck moving defenseman on the back end against the Kings, and sits Sprong for the last 31 minutes of the game because he pinched in the offensive zone…..

31 minutes?!  Yeah, for pinching in the offensive zone.

In that case, may as well sit Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, and every other offensive minded forward because they are not responsible enough defensively.  And to Sprong’s credit, I saw him make multiple, solid defensive plays in the Penguins’ defensive zone.

He’s called a forward, Mike.  Let him play his game and do the thing that you apparently didn’t want this team to do: score.

My point?  Give these young guys a shot, and sit Scuderi…unless you REALLY have to play him…

3. Power play

This may possibly be one of the biggest expectations after the coaching change.  Although the power play was kicking it up a little bit as of late, they still rank 27th in the NHL which is just absurd considering their offensive talent.

The power play should easily be top 5, at least on paper.  They need to have a shot first mentality, and plenty of traffic around the net.  Heck, watch Malkin’s goal he scored last night when the Penguins had a man advantage because they pulled their goalie.  David Perron literally threw a puck on net with traffic in front, and Malkin knocked the puck home past Quick to tie the game late, 2-2.

The power play production will lead to more goals, which can only play to the Penguins’ favor.

_______________________________________________________

If I were Mike Sullivan, here would be my line combinations for Monday night against Ovechkin and the Caps:

Forwards:

Kunitz – Crosby – Bennett

Perron – Malkin – Kessel

Sprong – Bonino – Hornqvist

Plotnikov – Cullen – Fehr

Defense:

Dumoulin – Lovejoy

Maatta – Warsofsky

Clendening – Cole/Scuderi

I kept the first 2 lines the same that they have been, but these lines could very well change.  Kessel has not been getting puck luck, but has looked good offensively the past few games.

I moved Sprong to the third line because he needs to be given a chance.  He should be playing 10-15 minutes per night, and he only has until the 40th game, because after this the coaches and GM can still send him back to juniors.  They need to give him a chance to see what they really have in Sprong, because if he can increase the scoring, then he needs to stay.  I wouldn’t even be at all opposed to giving him a shot with Crosby/Malkin, but I don’t think it will happen realistically.

Also, I did not put Letang in the lineup because he is reportedly out around 2 weeks with an upper body injury.  I put Warsofsky with Maatta because he has actually silently surprised me in his short stint with the Penguins.  He should be playing in every game until he shows he should not be.

Clendening should play, and the scratch could be Scuderi or Cole.  In this case, I would play Cole even though he has been terrible as of late, because Scuderi is just absolutely pathetic at this point.  Oh by the way, he makes $3.875 million.  Yikes.

Can the Penguins start to turn this season around?  I think they can.  If Sullivan can get this offense clicking how it should, I think this team can be dangerous.  It just feels like there is a ticking bomb waiting to go off.  Here is to hoping it happens soon…

The Penguins, as mentioned earlier, are currently 15-10-3, one point out of the playoff picture.  The hill they have to climb is not too steep, but they still need to begin improving.

It starts Monday against Washington, who currently leads the Metropolitan Division with 40 points.

I’ll have an article up on Monday night recapping the Penguins vs. Caps game, and giving my impressions on Sullivan behind the bench.  Let’s Go Pens.

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Johnston, Agnew Out. Sullivan, Martin In.

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