Don’t Let The Record Fool You…

johnston v sullivan

At of this point in the Pittsburgh Penguins season, they have played 56 games.  Exactly 28 of those games were played under Mike Johnston, and exactly 28 of them have been played under Mike Sullivan.  This is the perfect chance to begin comparing the 2 coaches.

I have been clear from the start of Sullivan’s debut: he was, and still is, the better coach even though the Penguins started 0-4 with him behind the bench.

So, who is the better coach for the Penguins?  Well, I’ve done enough trying to convince you all with what I see and what I say, but sometimes that isn’t enough.  It takes more than that some times, and this time, I’m gonna go there.  Let’s start looking at the stats, because we all know that stats do not lie.  Let’s break it down:

  • Record
    • Johnston: 15-10-3 with 33 points
    • Sullivan: 14-9-5 with 33 points
      • I understand it is extremely easy to look at the record of 2 coaches to compare them, because the record is the stat that matters.  In this case, both coaches produced an identical amount of points (33) in 28 games, which would put them both on a pace of about 97 points in an 82 game season.  So basically the Penguins now are just a little more exciting, but they’re the same right?  WRONG!  The biggest stat that favors Sullivan in this case is man games lost.  The Penguins only suffered 54 man games lost under Johnston.  The only significant injury was to Eric Fehr, who everyone knew would not start the season with the Penguins due to an elbow injury.  Under Sullivan, they have had 109 man games lost, including injuries to Bonino, Fehr, and Malkin long-term.  In addition, in Sullivan’s last 14 games, the Penguins are 9-3-2, good for 20 points and on pace for 118 points in an 82 game season.  Johnston in his last 14 was 6-5-3, good for 15 points and only 88 in an 82 game season.  In Johnston’s argument, Sullivan got to work with Daley as opposed to Scuderi, which definitely helped the offense.  Also, although Rutherford also traded Perron and Clendening for Hagelin, he has not been doing much more than Perron, so I do not see this as a notable difference.
    • Advantage: Sullivan, by a hair
  • Power Play
    • Johnston: 15 of 96 (15.7%)
    • Sullivan: 20 of 85 (23.6%)
      • Sullivan’s Penguins not only have the PP clicking, but it has scored 5 more goals than Johnston’s Penguins in 11 fewer opportunities.  To give you an idea on how big that increase is, a 15.6% PP in the NHL right now would rank 28th of 30 teams.  On the other hand, the 23.6% PP would have the Penguins tied for 1st in the NHL with the Washington Capitals. 1st!!
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Penalty Kill
    • Johnston: 80 of 95 (84.3%)
    • Sullivan: 70 of 83 (84.4%)
      • Luckily for the Penguins, the PK has remained a constant.  It is currently 4th in the NHL, and it was right around there when Johnston was fired.  Despite Sullivan’s Penguins technically having a .1% better PK, this one is pretty even.  Johnston did not have Fehr, a great PK guy, for the first month of the season.  That being said, Sullivan has also had to deal with injuries to Fehr and Bonino, both solid PK guys.
    • Advantage: none
  • Goals for/Goals for per game
    • Johnston: 66 goals for/2.358 goals for per game
    • Sullivan: 80 goals/2.858 goals for per game
      • Clearly, the advantage goes to Sullivan here.  He has really opened things up as head coach of the Penguins.  The stars are producing the way they should, and the Penguins are beginning to score goals like everyone thought they would at the beginning of the season.  Sullivan has really helped the Penguins establish an identity, and by goodness it seems to be working.  In the NHL right now, Sullivan’s Penguins would rank 6th in goals for per game (despite some significant injuries), while Johnston’s would rank 28th, keeping in mind he had Crosby, Malkin, and Letang healthy for almost every game.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Goals against/Goals against per game
    • Johnston: 65 goals against/2.322 goals against per game
    • Sullivan: 75 goals against/2.679 goals against per game
      • This is one stat that absolutely does lie in Johnston’s favor.  He had them playing a very defensive-style 200 foot hockey game, and this led to keeping teams in check.  Also, Fleury was playing out of his mind early in the season (more on that later).  Although I am not advocating for the fact that Sullivan’s Penguins are allowing 2.679 goals against per game,  which would rank them 18th in the NHL, they are playing how the Penguins should be playing.  This team is built to win 4-3 or 5-4 hockey games with their offense, not 2-1 hockey games with their defense.  Their defense is okay but it isn’t anything special.  Johnston wins this category for sure, but Sullivan’s style will naturally lead to this number being higher than Johnston’s.  But note that despite the increase in goals against per game, Sullivan’s Penguins are scoring .179 more goals than the opponent per game, while Johnston’s were only scoring .036 more goals than the opponent.  My point here is that whether the final score is 5-4 or 2-1, it still goes down as a win if the Penguins score more goals than the opponent, which has been the case more evidently under Sullivan than Johnston.
    • Advantage: Johnston
  • Record when trailing after 1
    • Johnston: 2-6-2
    • Sullivan: 4-7-1
      • In today’s NHL, this stat will never necessarily be a great one, but Sullivan’s Penguins have been better trailing after 1.  Johnston’s Penguins put up 6 points in 10 chances (.6 points/game), whereas Sullivan’s Penguins put up 9 points in 12 chances (.75 points/game).  This stat obviously hurt Johnston because the Penguins were not scoring goals during his time with the Penguins (for the most part).  So when they found themselves in a hole, it was harder to dig out of.  That being said, Sullivan has gotten the scoring going, and has led them to a better record in this regard.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Record when trailing after 2
    • Johnston: 1-9-1
    • Sullivan: 3-7-3
      • Once again, this stat favors Sullivan.  His team has been much more resilient than Johnston’s Penguins, who had a very hard time coming back in games.  If I remember correctly, they were something along the lines of 0-19-2 in this category last year.  Again, although 3-7-3 (9 points in 13 games, good for .693 points per game) may not look great, considering the situation, this is actually quite an incredible accomplishment, especially in today’s NHL where scoring is generally down across the entire league.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Record when trailing by 2 at any given point
    • Johnston: 0-7-1
    • Sullivan: 4-7-3
      • I want to clear up that I did NOT count games for either coach when the Penguins were down 1 goal and then an empty net was scored to make the deficit 2, because counting these type of games depletes the point in the statistic.  Anyways, once again, advantage Sullivan.  Johnston’s Penguins were often down and out if they as simply as allowed the first goal of a game.  If the Penguins allowed the first 2 of a game or trailed by 2 at some point, the game was over.  Sullivan’s Penguins are just different.  As I mentioned earlier, they have found resilience, and hold a 4-7-3 (11 points in 14 games, good for .786 points per game).  Johnston’s Pens did not record a win in this scenario.  I want to specifically site the 3-2 OT win against Florida about a week or 2 ago.  The Penguins were down 1-0 for almost the entire game, and then the Panthers scored a goal shorthanded mid-way into the 3rd period.  It seemed like it was the dagger into the heart of the Pens, and it WOULD have been under Johnston.  However, even with Geno out of the lineup, the Penguins stormed back in the final 5 minutes, tied the game, and won it into overtime.  letang ot winner.jpgMeanwhile, we were all happy if the Penguins could just get the next goal if they gave up the first one under Johnston, yet alone the first 2.
    • Advantage: Sullivan

Do I even need to keep going???  ….if you’re convinced, you don’t even have to read on.  But I’m not just going to try to pull a few stats that favor Sullivan and just include those, (when in reality, they almost all favor Sullivan), I just want to show you all that they do.  So if you aren’t sold on the guy yet, stay with me, we’re going to look at some individual player stats as well as some advanced hockey statistics such as Corsi, Fenwick, etc (I’ll explain them when we get there).  Anyways, let’s keep the ball rollin…

  • Patric Hornqvist
    • Johnston: 5G-5A-10P, +2 in 28 games
    • Sullivan: 6G-16A-22P, +2 in 28 games
      • Hornqvist’s numbers have more than doubled under Sullivan, and he was a +2 under both coaches (for those that do not know, +/- measures if you are on the ice for a goal (+1)/goal against (-1) with a few exceptions such as goals scored on a PP and goals allowed on the PK).  Under Johnston, he would have been projected for about 15-15-30 in an 82 game season.  Under Sullivan, he would be projected for about 18-47-65.  I do understand a ton of this is because the offense is scoring more goals, but the offense is scoring more goals because of Sullivan.  At least that’s what the stats are saying…
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Chris Kunitz
    • 4G-7A-11P, +4 in 28 games
    • 7G-8A-17P, +18 in 26 games
      • Kunitz’s numbers have not quite doubled, but they have certainly increased, especially his goal-scoring.  Notably, Kunitz’s +/- has been ridiculously good under Sullivan.  So good that he is currently 5th in the entire NHL in +/-, behind only Kuznetsov, Toffoli, Kane, and Kopitar.  Great to see Kunitz looking slightly more like the Kunitz of a few years ago.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Kris Letang
    • 1G-13A-14P, -12 in 25 games
    • 8G-19A-27P, +4 in 21 games
      • At the beginning of the season, I was wondering what had happened to Kris Letang.  I thought for sure he would be a top 5 candidate to win the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable defenseman, and meanwhile, early on it seemed like he was lucky to play in a top 6 role.  Letang put up a horrendous -12 and scored only 1 goal in 25 games.  Although defenseman do not score all that often, a guy of Letang’s caliber should have more than a goal through 25 games.  This showed under Sullivan, where he is averaging more than a point per game and has 8 goals in 4 fewer games while posting a +4.  He has been looking much more like the Norris candidate Letang that I expected to see at the beginning of the year.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Sidney Crosby
    • 6G-13A-19P, -6 in 28 games
    • 19G-17A-36P, +9 in 27 games
      • It’s no coincidence that Sidney Crosby has become vintage Sid again, producing at a ridiculous 1.334 points/game clip, which is surprisingly just above his career average of 1.331 points/game.  He is benefiting from Sullivan’s system.  Sullivan’s focus is to let the stats do what they do best and score/possess the puck, which opens up the game for the Penguins.  When things open up, Sid is the best in the business and he has shown that with recent play.  Johnston had Sid playing a 200 foot game and had him focusing entirely too much on defense.  His defensive metrics spiked last year because of this.  I believe that although Sid’s production was way down under Johnston, the process he went through made him more aware/responsible in his own end and made him a better player.  That being said, under Sullivan, he has found his offensive touch again, but is still showing signs of good defense with his +9 as opposed to his -6 under Johnston.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Marc-Andre Fleury/Backups
    • Johnston: 2.25 goals against average/.929 save percentage
    • Sullivan: 2.5 goals against average/.916 save percentage
      • Clearly Fleury and his backups had the better statistics under Johnston, and I think this is partially due to 2 things: 1) I believe Fleury was in another universe early in the season.  He saw the puck like a beach ball, and I think we all knew he couldn’t keep his stats up as high as he had them.  2) The Penguins were a more defensively structured team under Johnston, and so they had a tendency to favor defense rather than offense, which allowed for the defense to help Fleury out and reduce some high quality chances against.  Under Sullivan, Fleury in particular has a 2.5 GAA and a .914 save percentage.  However, his career averages are a 2.57 GAA and a .912 save percentage.  So really, Fleury has been playing like his “normal self” under Sullivan.  This also shows you how well he was playing in the beginning of the season when  he boasted a 2.2 GAA and a .927 save percentage.  That being said, the goalies stats were better under Johnston.
    • Advantage: Johnston
  • Corsi for %, Fenwick %, shooting %, % of offensive zone faceoffs vs. defensive zone faceoffs, high danger scoring chances for %, high danger scoring differential, NHL rank for each during coaching tenure
    • Johnston: 48.3/22nd, 48.2/25th, 7.7/26th, 49.1/20th, 49.7/15th, -3/15th
    • Sullivan: 54.0/2nd, 53.9/2nd, 8.3/20th, 52.3/9th, 55.1/4th, 70/3rd
      • Corsi: Corsi can be calculated by adding up a teams shots on goal, missed shots, and shots blocked by the opposing team.  Corsi for % is simply just Corsi for divided by the total Corsi registered by both teams in a given game, or in this case, 28 games.  Johnston’s Penguins had a Corsi for % of 48.3, which ranked 22nd in the NHL during his tenure as head coach.   This also means that the Penguins allowed the other team to attempt more shots than them, which normally goes hand in hand with possession, which is why Corsi is such a popular statistic in hockey.  In other words, Johnston’s teams were getting out-possessed in a general sense.  Sullivan’s Penguins, on the other hand, have a Corsi for % of 54.0, which ranks 2nd in the NHL since he took over as head coach.  Pretty impressive turn around, huh?
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • Fenwick: Fenwick is an extremely similar stat to Corsi.  The only difference is that Fenwick does not include shots that get blocked by the opposing team.  Johnston’s Penguins had a Fenwick % of 48.2, which was only 25th in the NHL.  Sullivan’s Penguins rank 2nd in the NHL during his tenure with a Fenwick % of 53.9.  From 25th to 2nd?!  Yeah, that happened.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • Shooting %: Although the Penguins have not been a very good shooting % team all year, they have been better under Sullivan.  The Penguins had a lowly shooting % of 7.7 under Johnston, which ranked 26th.  The Penguins are still only shooting at 8.3% under Sullivan, but the number is still improved.  One big reason I think Johnston’s number was so low is that he preached shot volume, and getting shots early.  When I got to talk to Mark Madden, he brought up the fact that often times players would just through low quality shots on goal just to get the shot volume that Johnston desired, and it was definitely something that I sensed.  That being said, I do not sense that as much from the Penguins under Sullivan, and it has showed by increasing slightly.  Heck, the Penguins are actually averaging MORE shots on goal per game under Sullivan (34.6) than Johnston (30.6).
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • % of offensive zone faceoffs vs. defensive zone faceoffs: I decided to look at this stat because where a team is taking faceoffs is important.  Obviously, you want to be taking draws in the offensive zone to get chances on net, rather than defend them.  This also is a good indicator of offensive production, because if a goalie freezes the puck/deflects it out of play for example, the team will get an offensive zone faceoff as a result of their shooting the puck on net.  That being said, Johnston’s Penguins were at 49.1%, while Sullivan’s Penguins are at 52.3%, ranking them 20th and 9th respectively.  Johnston’s 49.1% also means that the Penguins were taking more defensive than offensive draws, which is not a good thing…
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • High danger scoring chances for %: This stat kind of backs my argument that Johnston’s Penguins would just kind of “shoot” sometimes.  If his team was getting high danger scoring chances, it should show in this stat.  That being said, the team ranked 15th with 49.1%, meaning that the Penguins’ opponents had more high danger scoring chances.  Sullivan’s Penguins are 4th in the NHL in this category with a for percentage of 55.1.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • High Danger scoring chances differential: This stat is similar to the previous one, but this one takes HDC for – HDC against.  Johnston’s Penguins had a differential of -3, which ranked 15th.  Sullivan’s Penguins rank 3rd with a +70 differential.  If a team went from -3 to +6, that is improvement, but to go from -3 to 70?!  That is no coincidence…
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Corsi for %, Fenwick %, shooting %, % of offensive zone faceoffs vs. defensive zone faceoffs, high danger scoring chances for %, high danger scoring differential, NHL rank when down by 1 goal for each during coaching tenure
    • Johnston: 50.2/26th, 50.1/23rd, 8.2/19th, 51.1/22nd, 52.9/14th, 8/12th
    • Sullivan: 56.3/10th, 53.7/16th, 5.9/26th, 55.3/16th, 59.8/4th, 35/3rd
      • Corsi: Johnston’s Penguins did manage to break the 50% barrier in this category with a 50.2% Corsi for when they were down by 1 goal.  That being said, it ranked 26th in the NHL.  Sullivan’s Penguins rank 10th in the NHL with a 56.3% Corsi for when down by 1 goal.  This is positive to see, as it shows that the Penguins are getting more shots to the net than their opponents when they are losing in a game, giving them a better chance at a comeback.
    • Advantage: Sullivan…what else is new?
      • Fenwick: Once again, Johnston’s Penguins remained about the 50% clip with a Fenwick % of 50.1, but it only ranked 26th in the NHL.  Sullivan’s Penguins did not improve dramatically, but they moved up to 16th in the NHL with a Fenwick % of 53.7.  Definitely not the biggest change, but a change that favors Sullivan nonetheless.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • Shooting %: This is one of those random stats that happens to favor Johnston.  The Penguins had a shooting percentage of 8.2 under Johnston when down 1, but even that only ranked 19th.  Sullivan’s Penguins rank 26th in the NHL with a terrible shooting percentage of 5.9.  Both coaches did not really produce a number to brag about, but Johnston has the edge.
    • Advantage: Johnston
      • % of offensive zone faceoffs vs. defensive zone faceoffs:  Once again, Johnston’s Penguins were able to keep this number above 50% at 51.1%,  but it only ranked 22nd in the NHL.  Sullivan’s Penguins increased that number somewhat significantly to 55.3%, but it only ranks 16th in his tenure.  Although the rank did not increase by much, Sullivan’s Penguins absolutely improved here.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • High danger scoring chances for %: Credit to Johnston, the Penguins remained about 50% in this category as well, coming in at a 52.9%, good for 14th in the NHL which is absolutely respectable.  That being said, Sullivan’s Penguins have boasted a high danger scoring chances for % of 59.8, which ranks 4th.  Sorry, Johnston, you were outdone again.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • High Danger scoring chances differential: Johnston kept the Penguins in the positive end of the differential with a +8, meaning that they were generating more high danger scoring chances than their opponent when down by 1.  They ranked 12th which, again, is pretty respectable.  But…sorry Johnston, Sullivan outdid you again.  His Penguins have a differential of +35 when down 1, which ranks them 3rd in the NHL.  Credit to johnston, but Sullivan still improved the Penguins in this category.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
  • Corsi for %, Fenwick %, shooting %, % of offensive zone faceoffs vs. defensive zone faceoffs, high danger scoring chances for %, high danger scoring differential, NHL rank when down by 2 goals for each during coaching tenure
    • Johnston: 54.8/25th, 43.7/24th, 3.9/29th, 54.4/25th, 42.9/28th, -8/28th
    • Sullivan: 61.8/8th, 61.8/5th, 11.9/2nd, 67.2/3rd, 59.2/14th, 9/13th
      • Corsi: Johnston’s Penguins once again put up a Corsi for % of 54.8, which seems pretty respectable.  That being said, it was ranked 25th when down by 2, as the tendency is for teams to kick it up a notch offensively when down by 2.  Sullivan’s Penguins are much better at a 61.8 Corsi for %, which ranks 8th in the NHL, and it shows from all of the comebacks Sullivan’s Penguins have had while down 2 goals.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • Fenwick: In this case, Fenwick tells us a lot about the 2 different teams.  Remember, Femwick is the same thing as Corsi, but without shots that were blocked.  Johnston’s Penguins plummeted down to a 43.7% which ranked 24th in the NHL.  Sullivan’s Penguins, on the other hand, boast a 61.8% Fenwick, which is 5th in the NHL over his coaching tenure.  This tells us that the Penguins under Johnston panicked when down by 2, and simply flung pucks on goal from everywhere that often got blocked.  It’s the only explanation for having a Corsi for % of 54.8 and a Fenwick % of 43.7.  Sullivan’s Penguins, on the other hand, remained constant, meaning that they are getting shots through when down by 2.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • Shooting %: This stat is so simple, and yet so telling about the resiliency of both of these Penguins’ teams.  Johnston’s Penguins had a pitiful 3.9 shooting percentage when down by 2, which ranked 29th of 30 NHL teams.  Sullivan’s Penguins on the other hand boast an incredible 11.9 shooting percentage, good for 2nd in the NHL.  Wow.  Just wow.  I just find that extremely fascinating, I really do.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • % of offensive zone faceoffs vs. defensive zone faceoffs: Johnston’s Penguins once again held what seems like a decent percentage of offensive to defensive zone faceoffs at 54.4%, but it ranked only 25th in the NHL.  Meanwhile, Sullivan’s Penguins are in the offensive zone 2 times out of 3 when down 2, with a 67.2% rate of offensive to defensive zone draws, which ranks 2nd in the NHL.
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • High danger scoring chances for %: Johnston’s Penguins had low high danger scoring chances for % of 42.9, which is especially low when a team is down by 2.  This means that when down 2, the other team was getting significantly more high danger scoring chances!  This is a sign of a team shutting down and giving up.  Sullivan’s Penguins on the other hand have a high danger scoring for % of 59.2.  Even this number only ranks 14th, but it is a dramatic improvement, and it statistically shows that the Penguins do not fold over and die under Sullivan
    • Advantage: Sullivan
      • High Danger scoring chances differential: Johnston’s Penguins low high danger scoring chances for % led to his team’s differential to be a -8, which ranked 28th in the NHL.  Sullivan’s Penguins kept the differential positive, posting a +9 which ranks them 13th.  Again, a sign of a resilient team.
    • Advantage: Sullivan

For those of you that actually made it all the way through, I really hope that you have come to the realization that Sullivan is not just some coach that is the same as Johnston, or that he is just some fill-in kind of guy…he is the guy for this organization going forward.  That being said, I do not want to make it seem like Sullivan is the Christ.  He has been behind the bench for 28 games and hasn’t produced the greatest record, and I acknowledge that.  All that I wanted to get at is that he really is the guy, and you should feel not good, but great, about him moving forward.

Same record means same coach, right?  WRONG!!!

Just as a side note, all of the stats used in this article were either calculated by hand myself or retrieved from


Don’t Let The Record Fool You…

Penguins Can’t Fly


I want to take you back in time for a second…

It was 2009, and the Penguins were at one point the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference.  They had to do something about it.  Shero obviously felt that the players were not the problem, so he brought in a new coach: Dan Bylsma.

We all know what Bylsma did that year.  He brought the Penguins from 10th to 4th in the conference, and led the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup since 1992.  After that, however, Bylsma could not bring the Penguins back.

In 2010, the Penguins had a 3-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Canadiens, but they were stoned cold by Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak in the final 3 games, and failed to win one of the final 3 games to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

In 2011, the Penguins were without Crosby, Malkin, and Staal for the majority of the season.  That being said, the Penguins managed to take a 3-1 series lead against Tampa Bay in the first round of the playoffs, but once again, blew the series lead and had an early exit.

In 2012, the Penguins had an early exit in the playoffs once again, this time to the Philadelphia Flyers.  This was the series, if you can remember, of “which team is going to win 8-7.”  Flyers won that battle.

In 2013, the Penguins were riding Tomas Vokoun into the Eastern Conference Final, but the Penguins forgot how to score goals against the Bruins, who swept the Penguins and advanced to the Cup Final.

In 2014, the Penguins, for the 3rd time under Bylsma, had a 3-1 series lead and blew it, this time to the Rangers.

Everyone, including myself, knew that big changes were coming.

Interestingly enough, the Penguins fired Shero first, and kept Bylsma.  However, when Rutherford was hired as the new Pens’ GM, his first order of business was to fire Bylsma, due to his lack of success with the Penguins in the playoffs.

But, at least he was able to get the Penguins to the playoffs consistently, often as a top 4 seed in the conference (4th seed 4 times, 2 seed once, 1 seed once)

The Penguins were a top 5 team in goals for per game under Bylsma in the regular season, with the excpetion of the 2010-2011 season when they were without Crosby, Malkin, and Staal for half of the season.  They actually finished 1st in goals for per game in back to back seasons (2011-2012 and 2012-2013).

That being said, Rutherford felt that Bylsma needed to go.

Rutherford continued making moves, as he traded James Neal to Nashville for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.  He also made the decision to hire Mike Johnston, who had success coaching in the QMJHL with the Winterhawks, but never had NHL coaching experience.

The Penguins had a new coach, new GM, a ton of new players, and a ton of questions entering last season, the 2014-2015 season.  Well, the Penguins started that season 12-3-1, and it really looked like the Penguins were rolling.

Ever since that, this Penguins team has looked terrible.

Pardon, embarrassing.

Similar to 2009, changes need to happen, and they need to happen fast.

Despite early season success, under Johnston, the Penguins were the 8th seed last year, making the playoffs by beating the lowly Buffalo Sabres on the last game of the season, and currently sit in the final wild card spot this season.

Tough to have success in the playoffs if you can’t even get there.

I was listening to 93.7 the fan this morning, keeping in mind that this is a Steelers Sunday here in Pittsburgh, and they were talking about hockey.  Yeah, I’m not kidding.

I heard multiple fans call in, most saying that they have been die-hard Penguins fans since the 70’s.  Many of them, if not all of them, said that this Penguins team is the most embarrassing thing they have ever seen.  They feel embarrassed to watch the Penguins.

Wow.  That’s powerful.

See, I’m not crazy!  This team is really just pathetic, and it seems like a ton of people have the same opinion as me. This includes the players.

Josh Yohe of DK on Pittsburgh Sports asked Malkin what is wrong with the Penguins, minutes after a 10 minute closed-door team meeting after the Penguins were pathetically defeated by the Devils 4-0.  Malkin responded, “Everything.  We don’t play right.  We don’t play hard, we’re mad at each other.”

Malkin is right.  Everything is wrong.

Rutherford made it a priority to create an offensive juggernaut in Pittsburgh.  He traded for Phil Kessel to give Malkin and Crosby an all-star winger to work with.  He signed Eric Fehr, a solid bottom 6 player.  He traded for Nick Bonino, a quick, electric 3rd line center who can kill penalties.  He drafted Daniel Sprong, who has arguably been the most energetic and dynamic Penguins player (more on him later).

How have the Penguins responded?

By scoring 36 goals in 17 games.  Those 36 goals rank 27th in the NHL.

A team with Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Hornqvist, Sprong, Bonino…ranks 27th in the NHL in goals for.

However, this lack of goals is not a new problem.  It’s an ongoing problem.

According to DK on Pittsburgh Sports (great site, I recommend you subscribe), the Penguins have averaged 2.18 goals for per game in their last 82 games, representing a full season.

Additionally, the Penguins this season are scoring 2.12 goals per game.  On average, NHL teams are scoring 2.67 goals per game.  So the Penguins are scoring .5 goals less than an average NHL team any given night, and their record is somehow 10-7.  The Penguins should be thankful that they are at least in a hole that they can dig themselves out of.

To put these goals for per game stats in perspective, the 2003-2004 Rico Fata/Dick Tarnstrom Penguins scored 2.32 goals per game.  They finished 30th in the NHL.  Last place.

Yeah, it’s that bad.

Sidney Crosby has only 2 goals and 7 assists (9 points) in 17 games.  Even Evgeni Malkin, who leads the Penguins in points, only has 12, with 4 goals and 8 assists.

Sidney Crosby was putting up a 1.41 points per game clip under Therrien, and was putting up a 1.43 points per game clip under Bylsma.  Both of these figures would be fourth best in NHL history behind only Gretzky, Lemieux, and Bossy, according to DK on Pittsburgh Sports.

Under Johnston?  Crosby is down to .99 points per game, including a .53 points per game clip this season.  This means Crosby is on pace for 43 points this season, and that’s if he stays healthy and plays all 82 games.

Even Evgeni Malkin is only on pace for 58 points.

Oh, and Bobby Farnham, a fourth line guy that was placed on waivers and was picked up by the Devils, currently is tied with Crosby for goals, and has more goals than either Kunitz or Perron after his goal last night.  I love Farnham, but let’s just say he is not necessarily a gifted goal-scorer.

Both Malkin and Crosby need to start producing the way that they can, and it starts with being more selfish with the puck.  I still believe in Crosby and Malkin.  They are still both 2 of the best players in the game today.  But they need to PLAY that way.

When I say play selfish, I don’t mean they should never pass the puck, but these players need to realize who they are.  When Crosby first got drafted by Pittsburgh, he was pretty much the only thing the Pens had at that point.  He knew he had to step up.  He had to be selfish.  That’s not the case any more.

Now Crosby has Letang, Malkin, Kessel, and Hornqvist just to name a few.  I get the feeling that all of these players have that feeling of “spreading the wealth” around, and so they force passes and force plays instead of just playing the way they are capable.

Crosby, and even Malkin for that matter, could be right atop the scoring race if they just played more selfish.  They cannot put their talent to waste, especially on a team that is so dependent on these guys producing.  Want an example?  Watch guys like Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Ovechkin, or Patrick Kane play.

Heck, Tarasenko predicted himself to score 50 goals this year.  That is confidence.  That’s selfishness.  And I LOVE it.

So Malkin said everything is wrong, and I just talked about offense.

So, what else is wrong?

Well, the power play is pretty bad.  Scratch that, really bad.  Pathetic, actually.  *Insert other adjectives here*.  The Penguins rank 29th in the NHL, as their power play is only clicking at 12.3%, scoring only 7 times 57 opportunities.  The so-called first unit has scored 5 of the 7 power play goals, but then again, who knows which unit is the Penguins’ top unit at this point.

I think the power play improves by having guys like Crosby and Malkin be selfish with the puck.  Watch teams that are good on the power play.  It is so simple.  One or two passes, and a quick low one-timer on net.  The Penguins power play is more like 10 or 12 passes (if one of them does not get picked off), and then someone misses the net on a wide angle shot and the puck clears the zone.

In addition to the offense and the power play, the defense has not been good.

Wait, what?  But the Penguins have only allowed 2.18 goals per game, ranking 4th in the NHL!  How has their defense not been good?

Well, the reason is because Marc-Andre Fleury.  He has been absolutely spectacular for the Penguins, and even Zatkoff has looked solid in his few starts.  Without this goaltending tandem, the Penguins could easily be 5-12, if not worse.  Goaltending has been the only consistent bright spot for the Penguins up to this point in the season.

The Penguins’ top pair of defense, Letang and Cole, are at a plus/minus of -12 and -11 respectively.  And it took Mike Johnston until 2 games ago to realize that this defensive pair was clearly not working.  This, considering that Letang noted multiple times that he felt as though he and Cole were never on the same page.

Remember that Lovejoy guy that everyone complained about us acquiring last year?  Yeah, he’s been our best defenseman this year.  Although I am very happy to see Lovejoy playing well, he should not be our best defenseman, but right now, he is.

Dumoulin is close behind him, and him and Lovejoy have actually looked excellent.

Past that shutdown pair of Dumoulin and Lovejoy, Maatta is inexistent, Letang is taking bad penalties and cannot run the power play, Cole is playing way more than he should in a role he should not be in, and Scuderi is just slow and should not even be in the NHL at this point.

I would start giving Clendening more chances to play, and even consider calling up Pouliot.  The Penguins need to get something going, and both of these players are young, fast defensemen, and Pouliot is known to be a power play quarterback.  It won’t happen, but just a thought…

So now I’ve talked about defense and offense, but once again, Malkin said that everything is wrong.

What is the biggest problem for the Penguins right now?  It should be pretty obvious at this point: the Penguins need a new coach.  Right now.

So let’s talk about what’s wrong with Mike Johnston.

First of all, he has made so many questionable moves within his lineup.

He has played Adam Clendening once, who was arguably one of their best defenseman during camp.  He continues to play Rob Scuderi, who pretty much scored the first goal of the game for the Devils last night.

He kept Ian Cole and Letang together for 16 games when they clearly continued to struggle.

He took Hornqvist away from Crosby, right when Hornqvist was finally finding his groove.

He has not given Daniel Sprong, probably the most electric Penguins forward that actually plays selfish, a chance to play with Crosby or Malkin.  Why not?

Look at the Hawks, clearly a team that has succeeded in recent years to say the least.  Last year, they had a young rookie named Teuvo Terravinen.  No one knew who he was, and then the Hawks let him play with Toews/Kane in the top 6.  He ended up playing a huge role in their Stanley Cup win.

This year, the Hawks have a rookie named Artemi Panarin.  Who is he?  He leads all rookies in scoring, and plays alongside Patrick Kane in the top 6.

Why aren’t they giving Sprong this chance?!

He has a terrific shot, he is quick, and has some slick hands.  I had a twitter conversation with Dan Kingerski of 93.7 the fan, and he said that if Sprong played with Crosby/Malkin, he would get discouraged.

Discouraged?!  He would get discouraged by playing with Crosby, who is projected for 43 points?!  If anything, I think Sprong would help Crosby and discourage HIM, because Sprong would actually shoot the puck and focus on creating offense, and would probably be successful at it.

Even with Hornqvist hurt, Sprong is never going to get that chance, because it makes way too much sense to let him play with Sid.

In addition, Mike Johnston is so neutral.  He does not have any energy as a coach, no fire, and clearly has these players playing poorly.

I hear all these reports about how Malkin’s defensive game has improved this year.  Yeah, that’s great.  How about let Malkin score some goals and creating offense rather than focusing on defense.

So the Steelers should probably teach Ben Roethlisberger how to play linebacker, and practice his tackling ability in case of a turnover right?

If Mike Johnston was the coach of the Steelers, let’s say that I wouldn’t be shocked.

Seriously, watch this guy behind the bench (if he s able to live another day with the Penguins).  He looks so disinterested and disgusted.  One of the most important jobs as a coach is to help your team through adversity.

As a coach, if your team goes down 2-0, call a timeout.  Talk to your team at intermission.  Get them pumped up.  The game isn’t over yet…well, it is under Johnston.

Even the Penguins announcer has been less enthusiastic while in introducing the Penguins onto their home ice at Consol Energy Center.  I think Mike Johnston is depressing this guy, and he isn’t even on the team.

I don’t know. Look at Mike Johnston and try to tell me he is a guy that could pump you up.  If your answer is yes, try again.  You’re wrong.

This supposed offensive juggernaut can’t score goals because they’re trapped playing a defensive minded system.  It’s that simple.  Johnston needs to go, and it needs to happen sooner than later.

Even Jim Rutherford, before this weekend’s epic collapse, said that he was not pleased with how the team was playing.  This was after the Penguins’ 10-2 run in 12 games.  He sees it, and he knows it.

Jim, make your move, and do it now while you still have the chance.  Please.  He even said he wants to make a trade for a top 3 or 4 defenseman.  Sooner than later would work better, because the Penguins need something to jump-start them right now.  Maybe that is it.

I do want to say this:  I do not think Mike Johnston is a bad coach.  He isn’t.  He is a bad coach for THIS team.  He just does not fit.

That being said, since Mike Johnston is about as energetic as me walking to my Monday morning classes at Duquesne, the Penguins players need to step up.  The role players need to step up.  Now.

Evgeni Malkin did.  He told the media straight up that this team is not playing right, and that they need to show more effort and grit moving forward.  He called out the Penguins, and every player on this team needed that.

Crosby talked with the media as well, but did not call out the team nearly as strong as Malkin did.

I think Malkin is the true leader of this team, and there are times, especially now, where I think Malkin should be wearing the “C.”

Hear me out.  I know that Sid is the franchise tag, and he is a great player, but Sid has never struck me as a “put the team on my back” kind of player.  He just doesn’t seem like a TRUE leader to me sometimes.  But I see the leadership qualities in Malkin.

If the Penguins made that switch (which again, will never happen), I think Crosby would get a wake-up call.  I think he would really feel like he has to earn his place on the team, and I really believe that Malkin is the leader here.

Remember a few years when Malkin said “Relax,” and the Penguins went on some huge winning streak?  This isn’t coincidence.

I cannot control what Rutherford does, what Johnston does, or what any of these players do, but what I will say is that they need to respond.  But I do not just mean against Minnesota on Tuesday night.

This entire season needs to be a response, from the GM, coaches, and players, and it needs to start now.  Can the Penguins do it?

Who knows, but don’t get your hopes up, because Penguins Can’t Fly.

Penguins Can’t Fly