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 war-on-ice.com.

 

Advertisements
Don’t Let The Record Fool You…

What To Think of Sullivan

SullyMike Sullivan has now been behind the Penguins bench for 10 games now.  The Penguins have a 4-5-1 record under Sullivan, however, they boast a 4-1-1 record in their previous 6 games after their 4 game losing skid when Sullivan was hired.

So, was the Sullivan hire the right move?

Oh my gosh, yes.

I wrote an article after the first game that the Penguins played under Sullivan.  It was a 4-1 loss to the Capitals.  Although they lost that game, and the next 3 after that, I wanted to make a point clear: I believed in Sullivan, and I still do.

If you are a Penguins fan, you need to believe in him, too.

So let’s look at some statistical analysis here:

First, the Penguins are starting to score again.  Although the Penguins are still only averaging 2.4 goals per game under Sullivan (they averaged 2.35 under Johnston this year), they have now scored 5 goals in three of Sullivan’s 10 games behind the bench.  The Penguins only had 1 game in which they scored 5 or more under Johnston this year.

Second, the stars are producing.  This is arguably the most important and most significant difference between Johnston and Sullivan.  Johnston was extremely structured in his coaching from what I have read through multiple sources.  He was very particular about guys playing a certain way and this, that, and the other.  Sullivan has similar beliefs, but he believes that the superstars are superstars because of their instinctive abilities.

He wants to back of them a little bit and let them do what they do best: score goals.

Although the Penguins have a plethora of great players, I want to look at their 4 elite skaters: Kessel, Letang, Malkin, and Crosby, and break them down one guy at a time.

Under Johnston this year…

  • Kessel played 28 games, racking up 17 points (9 G – 8A), which is good for approximately .608 points per game and .321 goals per game
  • Letang played 25 games, tallying 14 points (1G – 13A), which gave him .56 points per game and .04 goals per game
  • Malkin played 28 games, leading the Penguins with 26 points (13G – 13A), which gave him .929 points per game and .464 goals for per game
  • Crosby played 28 games and tallied only 19 points (6G – 13A) which gave him .679 points per game and .214 goals per game

Under Sullivan this year…

  • Kessel’s numbers have dropped slightly, but I believe this is because he played a ton of time on the third line, which gave him less ice time.  That being said, in 10 games under Sullivan, Kessel has 5 points (3G – 2A), which gives him a .5 points per game and .3 goals per game.  This will improve, however, as Kessel has been reunited with Malkin
  • Letang has only played 4 games under Sullivan, but thus far has 8 points (2G – 6A) which is good for 2 points per game and .5 goals per game.  By no means will Letang keep that kind of pace up, but he looks more confident on the ice and is beginning to shoot the puck more on the power play and in general
  • Even Malkin’s numbers have increased, despite his dominant performances early in the season.  In 10 games Malkin has 11 points (5G – 6A), which gives him 1.1 points per game and .5 goals per game
  • Crosby has by far seen the most improvement under Sullivan, and thank goodness, because the Penguins need him to play like what he is: the best player in the world.  In 9 games, Crosby has 10 points (5G – 5A), which gives him about 1.1 points per game and .55 goals per game

Stats speak for themselves. Although it may be a small sample size, the stars are really beginning to find their stride under Sullivan, and if they continue to do so, look out NHL.

Third, the power play is clicking.  They are shooting the puck, creating movement, screening the goalie…you name it.  The Penguins are finally beginning to have a power play that LOOKS like it should.  The Penguins power play was darn near last in the league, clicking at only 15.6% (15 of 96).

In only 10 games under Sullivan, the power play has been clicking at a 27.3% rate (9 of 33), which brought the Penguins all the way up to 19th in the league in that department.  AND that includes an 0 for 10 stretch in Sullivan’s first 3 games before he even had a practice with the team.  Take away that 0 for 10 stretch, and the Penguins are at a ridiculous 39.1% clip (9 of 23).

I know it’s hard sometimes, but believe in these Penguins.  Believe in Sullivan.

Just a few side notes:

The Penguins play a home-and-home against the Balckhawks on back-to-back nights (Tuesday and Wednesday).  This should tell us a lot about how this team stands as it is right now.

Also, just because I am a huge fan, Daniel Sprong now has 6 goals and 1 assist in 4 games since behind shipped back to juniors.  He may not play for the Pens this year, but he is going to be special.

 

 

What To Think of Sullivan

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.

Johnston, Agnew Out. Sullivan, Martin In.

Week 2 Q and A

It’s that time of the week!

Just as a quick note before we get going: since there aren’t too many Penguins games in a week, I am going to start doing the Q and A monthly rather than weekly.

Often times, there is not too much that happens in a week that becomes “question worthy,” and I would rather answer upwards of 10 questions in one huge article every month than answer around 1-3 in a week.

So the next Q and A will be published on December 1st regarding the Penguins progress up through the end of November.

With that being said, let’s get to this week’s questions.

_________________________________________________________________________

Winnipeg Jets vs Toronto Maple Leafs

Tyler Godwin: I know it’s early, but what are some positions the Penguins could look to improve through trade and who could they target for those positions?

Brad Franjione: The Penguins have been playing well as of late, but I really think they need a physical presence somewhere in their lineup.  Enter Dustin Byfuglien.

I actually briefly mentioned Byfuglien in my previous Q and A article, but let’s talk about him a little bit more.

First of all, the Penguins do not have many physical players.  David Perron is tied for 2nd on the Penguins in hits.  That should not be the case.  Perron should be more busy trying to score goals instead of trying to hit people…

Dustin Byfuglien is an absolute monster at 6′ 5″ and 265 pounds.  He can hit, clear out the front of the net, and also be the guy that could even come to the aid of guys like Crosby and Malkin if need be.

The biggest upside of Byfuglien is that he isn’t just some big guy who can hit people and do nothing else.  He is actually a smooth skater and has potential offensive upside as well.  Byfuglien currently is a +4 with Winnipeg and has 6 points (2G – 4A – 6P) in 12 games.  Pretty solid stat line from a 6′ 5″ guy weighing 265 pounds.

However, one of the biggest reasons the Penguins should go after Byfuglien?

He is a power play threat.

The Penguins power play, although it converted once in their most recent game, is still 28th in the NHL.  Byfuglien would help their cause.  He has a bomb of a shot, as you would expect from a guy his size, and can quarterback a power play quite well.

Although I love Kris Letang, he never really has proven himself as a good “power play quarterback.”  That’s just my opinion.  Although Pouliot is in the AHL, I would love to see him quarterback the top power play if and when he gets called up this year.  I also would not mind giving Maatta that chance.

But if the Penguins acquired Byfuglien, I think he becomes your power play quarterback, and a guy that will help the power play numbers improve drastically.

So what do the Penguins give up to get Byfuglien?  I would use Perron in the centerpiece of that trade.  I mentioned this also in my previous Q and A.  He is a good player, but just does not seem to be meshing anywhere in the Penguins lineup right now.  He still does not have a goal, and is currently on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.

That’s a problem.

The Penguins’ forward depth is outstanding, and although their defense could use a top 4 guy, the Penguins are tied 1st in the NHL is goals allowed per game (although this is partially due to the tremendous play of Fleury).

Byfluglien is a top 4 defenseman, a physical presence, a power play quarterback…

You fill all the potential “needs” of the Penguins with Byfuglien.

_________________________________________________________________________

sid and geno

Doug Godwin: After the quick start last year, the power play has been horrible ever since.  Besides just shooting the puck, what is the true issue here?

Brad Franjione: This is a great question.  Actually, it is such a good question that I am not sure if there is a clear cut answer.  That being said, I’ll let you know what I think.

So the Penguins have a top power play unit consisting of Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, and Patric Hornqvist.

Last year, the Penguins had a similar top unit, except obviously excluding Kessel.

In the first 11 games of last season, the power play was clearly working.  The Penguins scored on 19 of 46 opportunities, which is about a 41.3% success rate.  Although I would love to see the Penguins with a power play consistently clicking at 41.3%, I think we all knew the power play was going to drop off.  That being said, it dropped off way more than it should have.

After the first 11 games of last season, the power play only succeeded 30 times in 208 tries, which is about a 14.4% success rate.  About 2/5 of the Penguins total power play goals last year came in the first 11 games of the season!!

Under Mike Johnston and Rick Tocchet (excluding the first 11 games of last year), the Penguins power play has succeeded 34 times in 243 tries, which is about a 13.9% success rate.

The Penguins have, arguably, the best forward corps in the NHL.  Minimally, they are top 5 team in this category.  Their power play SHOULD be at about 25% in my opinion.  But they are not even close.

So, why?

Well, obviously they need to start shooting the puck more.  You can’t score goals by just passing the puck around in the offensive zone all night.

So, besides that.  What’s the issue?  I see two main issues, personally.  Again, who knows if these are the real issues behind this power play, but here’s what I think.

First issue, when the Penguins shoot, the puck needs to be on net.  I watched a game the other night and it seemed like every shot or one-timer was fired high and wide, banked off of the boards, and went all the way out to neutral ice.

They can’t be helping the other team do their job.

Every shot that they shoot doesn’t have to go in, but at least hit the net with it.  Even if it means taking a little bit of anger out of the shot.

Second issue, the Penguins need to shoot faster.  And no, I’m not talking about the speed of the shot.

I mean they need to shoot the puck early in the power play.

Most teams while shorthanded will play in a box-type formation in the defensive zone.  When they Penguins control the puck and refuse to shoot the puck on net, this box will stay in formation.  The Penguins can pass and pass all they want, but that box will not move.  What I do notice, however, is that when the Penguins DO shoot the puck early, that defensive box collapses, which opens the door for more opportunities.

If the Penguins power play is going to improve, they need to get the puck on net early and often, put it on goal, and get the other team out of position.  This is how I think they are going to succeed.

_________________________________________________________________________

Bennett

Casey Chafin: Why is Beau Bennett still on this team?  He should have been gone 3 years ago.  Most injury prone players like Bennett typically make up for it by being really good when they are healthy, but he does not seem to do that.  Considering we now have a new coach and GM, as opposed to the ones that drafted him and thought highly of him, why is he still around?

Brad Franjione: Well Casey, I see your argument here.  I have not been a huge Beau Bennett fan myself due to his consistent injury problems.

The guy got injured celebrating a goal this season.  Geez.

So, why is Beau Bennett still around? Here are some arguments in support of Beau Bennett.

First of all, he is only 23 and still has potential.  I remember last preseason, Bob Steigerwald, one of the Penguins’ announcers, was quoted saying something along the lines of “Besides Crosby and Malkin, Beau Bennett is the most skilled player on this team.”  That is saying something.

I know, he’s injury prone.  But he is young.  Give the guy a chance.  Do you really just drop a young talented player like Bennett JUST because he has been prone to injury?  That is a bit harsh…

Second of all, he is only signed to a 1 year deal at $800,000.  To have a guy like him on your team for that cheap is huge.  AND it is only a 1 year contract.  The Penguins did not want to offer him anything long term because he has been injury prone.  If Bennett had a 3 year deal woth 2 million a year, then yeah, I definitely see your argument, but that is not the case.

Thirdly, Bennett made some huge improvements in the offseason.  He knew that he has been injury prone, and he wanted to get better and earn himself a roster spot.  In the preseason, Bennett scored a team high 3 goals, and so far this year, he has 2 goals in only 6 games.

To put this in perspective, Malkin and Kessel have 4 goals each.  They have played all 11 games.  Past that, Hornqvist, Bonino, and Kunitz have 2 goals each, and they have also played in all 11 games.  Bennett has more goals than Crosby, Letang, and Perron, all of who have played all 11 games.

Give the guy some credit here.

Let’s get into some advanced statistics.  In the NHL, there are stats such as plus/minus, goals, assists, and points.  However, I am going to look at iCorsi/60 and iFenwick/60 stats for Beau Bennett.

You’re probably asking yourself “what the heck is iCorsi/60 and iFenwick/60?”  Corsi itself is calculated by the following formula:

Corsi = shots on goal + missed shots + blocked shots

iCorsi/60 is just basically an individuals Corsi for every 60 minutes that they play.

Fenwick itself is calculated by the following formula:

Fenwick = shots on goal + missed shots

Similarly, iFenwick/60 is just an individuals Fenwick for every 60 minutes they play.

Both of these stats, Fenwick especially, are strong indicators of possession, since a skater needs possession to shoot the puck.

So far this year, Beau Bennett has a iCorsi/60 of 15.84 and an iFenwick/60 of 13.2.  Out of 13 forwards, his iCorsi/60 ranks 4th among forwards behind only David Perron, Daniel Sprong, and Phil Kessel.  His iFenwick/60 ranks 3rd among Penguins forwards behind only Daniel Sprong and David Perron.

To put this into perspective even more, Crosby ranks 8th with an iCorsi/60 of 11.48 and Malkin ranks 12th with an iCorsi/60 of 8.73.  In addition, Crosby is 9th among forwards with an iFenwick/60 of 8.97, and Malkin ranks 12th with an iFenwick/60 of 5.95.

You do not have to be completely sold that Bennett is some God-send.  I am not making that claim.  But for his salary that he has and his impact to the team, even with being injury prone, I do not have a problem with where he is, and would not be surprised if the Penguins signed him to a one-year deal after this season, even with a new coach and GM.

_________________________________________________________________________

Thank you as always to those who participated this week!  I will begin doing this monthly now, as stated in the intro, but keep updated with everything by following me on Twitter @FranjiPensPress and like me on Facebook at Franjione Pens Press.

My next article will be posted late tomorrow night after the Penguins battle the Canucks in Vancouver looking for their 5th straight win.  Puck drop at 10 pm.

Week 2 Q and A

Tuesday’s Q and A’s

Welcome to my first Q and A session!  For those of you that are new to my blog, I will be posting a Q and A article on every Tuesday.  Throughout the week, ask me questions via twitter (@FranjiPensPress) using #FranjiPensPress or comment your question on a Facebook (Franjione Pens Press) post. I will answer every question that I get, so feel free to ask away!  As for the first week of Q and A, let’s get underway:

_________________________________________________________________________

Alex Light: What are your thoughts on the new lines that just came out?  Sprong on the 3rd line is just a little bit off in my opinion.  Also, what do you think about the fact that Johnston is “experimenting” with some of the line changes?

Brad Franjione: There are a ton of elements that I love about the line changes Johnston made.  At the same time, there are elements I am not a huge fan of.  For those of you that are unsure about what the Penguins line combinations were as of this past Saturday against the Predators, here they are:

Dupuis – Crosby – Hornqvist

Plotnikov – Malkin – Kessel

Kunitz – Bonino – Sprong

Perron – Cullen – Rust

First of all, I love love LOVE the fact that Johnston finally put Kessel with Malkin, and put Hornqvist back with Crosby.  Last year, Crosby and Hornqvist really developed some awesome chemistry.  I also think that Hornqvist’s playing style of getting to the front of the net encourages Crosby to shoot more and gives him more space to work.

Kessel with Malkin is going to work.  I promise you this.  Malkin plays such a dominant game, and loves possessing the puck in the offensive zone.  This draws defensemen in towards Malkin, and gives players like Kessel more space to find the soft spots in the defense to look for opportunities.

I said it once, and I’ll say it again: James Neal was a 40 goal scorer with the Penguins, and he played with Malkin, not Crosby.

As of now, I am not a huge fan of Plotnikov on the 2nd line, but both Perron and Kunitz failed to succeed in a top 2 line role, so I guess Plotnikov is getting a second crack at it.

Finally, let’s talk about Sprong.  I would love to see him on the first or second line, BUT he is a natural right winger, and with the likes of Hornqvist and Kessel, it is highly unlikely that Sprong plays over either of these 2 guys.  The only way he plays in the top 6 if they convert him to be a left wing, which I do not think they will do.

So for now, I do not mind Sprong on the 3rd line…

BUT…

He should see way more than 8 minutes of ice time per game, which is about what he is getting.  He is one of the Penguins’ most skilled offensive forwards, and the Penguins are lacking in the goal scoring department.

2 + 2 = 4 right?  Then let Sprong do what he does best: score goals.

As for the last part of your question, I understand why Johnston wants to experiment with the line combinations, because clearly something needs to jump start this offense.  That being said, experimenting with line combinations is something that should be done in the preseason.  Johnston pretty much kept Kunitz, Crosby, and Kessel together and kept Plotnikov, Malkin, and Hornqvist together.

That’s your time to “experiment”, not now.  But line changes needed to be made, and I’m glad he at least did that.

_________________________________________________________________________

Josh Godwin: Will Bruce Boudreau coach for the Pens at some point this year?

Brad Franjione:  First, let me fill everyone in on the situation.  Bruce Boudreau is currently the coach for the Anaheim Ducks.  During the preseason, the Ducks were seen as one of the Stanley Cup favorites.  All of that being said, the Ducks are 1-5-1 to start the season, with only 6 goals scored in those 7 games.

Boudreau is probably on the hot seat, and if the Ducks continue on this downward slide, Boudreau could very easily be unemployed soon.

As we all know, the Penguins are struggling to find offense, and Mike Johnston is definitely on the hot seat here in Pittsburgh.

If both Boudreau and Johnston get fired (theoretically), I would think that there is a chance the Penguins take a look at Boudreau.  However, this would only be a realistic situation if Boudreau was fired before Johnston, and the Penguins were able to get in contact with Boudreau and initiated talks with him about coaching in Pittsburgh.

I would give a higher probability to see either Tocchet or Jacques Martin behind the bench if Johnston is let go.  But there is absolutely a chance that the Penguins would consider Boudreau if that was an option for them at the time.

_________________________________________________________________________

Nick Bermel: Why do the Penguins always lose to the Flyers?  Are the Flyers just the superior team?

Brad Franjione: Well, let’s start off by saying that the Flyers have not won a Stanley Cup since 1975.  The Penguins have 3 Stanley Cups since then.  Oh, and were the Flyers in the playoffs last year?

As I recall, they were not…

That being said, you do bring up a good point.  I want to say it’s been 8 games straight that the Flyers have beat the Penguins in head to head match-ups.

I think that the rivalry between the Penguins and Flyers adds some crazy intensity to every game, and I think the Flyers know how to take advantage of that.  The Flyers play in a way that really gets into the heads of the Penguins’ players, and the Penguins play into that style that the Flyers play.  Props to the Flyers for that.  In addition, the Flyers have some solid offensive threats up front in Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, and others.

The Flyers have been the superior team in head-to-head matchups against the Penguins in recent years, but they are by no means the superior team in general.

_________________________________________________________________________

Raafay Rishi: Which NHL defenseman do you think the Penguins will trade for and who will the Penguins give up in the trade?

Brad Franjione:  To be quite honest, Raafay, right now the defense is not the problem.  The offense is.

But as I said in one of my previous articles, the defense is going to decline slightly as the season goes on.  The Penguins right now are stacked offensively and need help on defense…at least on paper.

Who do I think they should go after? Dustin Byfuglien.

The Penguins do not have many physical players, and Byfuglien answers that concern.  He hits people HARD.  He also has a bomb of a shot, and is a great power play guy, which the Penguins really need right now.

So, if the Penguins were to pursue Byfuglien, who do they give up?

Right now, the centerpiece of that trade for me is David Perron.  He has offensive skill and can be a decent player, but he just does not seem to fit anywhere into the Penguins lineup right now.  The Penguins would have to throw in something else besides Perron, but I think he would be the centerpiece.

Some other pieces that the Penguins would consider using along with Perron could be players such as Kunitz, Scuderi, or even young defenseman Derrick Pouliot.

I’m not sure if the Penguins will pursue Byfuglien, but I do not have a problem with taking advantage of the offensive surplus and helping firm up the defensive corps, especially considering that the Penguins only have two top pair defensemen and a bunch of other bottom pair guys.

Now that I think about it, I’d buy a Byfuglien shirt.

_________________________________________________________________________

Casey Chafin: Let’s jump to the major conclusion that Johnston is out.  What do you look for in a replacement, style wise?  And what immediate changes should the new guy implement?

Brad Franjione: If you do not know, Johnston’s style has a very “defense first” mentality.  The offense is created through defense and the defense move up into the play to help create offense.

So Rob Scuderi is supposed to provide offense for this team?  Yeah… Okay…

The coach of the Penguins needs to be a guy who coaches in an offensive-minded style.  The Penguins are built upon their star players’ success.  They have star power up front, and they are clearly one of the best offensive teams in the NHL, at least on paper.

The Penguins should be winning 6-3 type of hockey games, not 2-1 hockey games.  The new coach needs to be one that puts the emphasis on offense, not defense (although defense is obviously still important).

In regards to the second part of your question, I think the biggest immediate change (besides the overall strategy) is the power play.  The power play is just not working, but it needs to be.  The players are too good for it not to work.

In the last 3 years of Bylsma’s stint with the Penguins, the Penguins had power plays clicking at 19.7%, 24.7%, and 23.4% which ranked them 5th, 2nd, and 1st in the NHL respectively.  So clearly Crosby, Malkin, Letang and co. can be successful.  Obviously the power play can work, but it obviously hasn’t under Johnston and Tocchet.

The Penguins finished with a power play percentage of 19.3% last year, which is not too bad at all.  That being said, the power play was clicking at about 40% for the first 20 or so games.  This means in the last 60 or so games, the power play was not working so well.

This year, the Penguins power play is only clicking at a 7.1%, which is 29th in the NHL.

This needs to be fixed, and it needs to be a priority for the head coach that takes over Johnston, because I do not think he will be here much longer.

_________________________________________________________________________

Doug Godwin: What would you attribute Sid’s lack of production to over the last 2 years?  Declining skills?  Coaching?  NHL changing?

Brad Franjione: Well, let me start with this: last year, scoring in the entire NHL was down.  The Art Ross winner Jamie Benn had only 86 points.  Crosby finished with 83 points, and finished first in the NHL in points per game.

The NHL is general is changing.  Goalies are getting bigger, the pads are getting bigger, and goals are harder to come by.  It showed last year.

Although Crosby was first in the NHL in points per game, he really hasn’t looked like “vintage Crosby” over last season and this season.  Especially this season.

If you recall, Crosby had one great game against the Panthers this year where he registered a career high 9 shots on goal and had 3 points in that game.  He had some hop to his step and played an absolutely terrific game.  Past that, he has been invisible.

I think part of his problem right now is coaching.  Johnston has been questionable to say the least, and considering he had no NHL coaching experience before taking over the Penguins, I’m not sure how much respect and trust Crosby has in this guy.

His main problem?  He needs to shoot.

Hopefully this problem is partially solved through reuniting him and Hornqvist, but regardless, Sid needs to shoot.  He showed us all that when he shoots the puck, good things happen.  When you’re as good of a player as Sidney Crosby, you’ll score goals and put up points when you shoot as much as he did against the Panthers.

Case and point: Alex Ovechkin.  The guy has a tremendous shot, and shoots the puck like crazy.  He gets rewarded by collecting Rocket Richard trophies like it’s his job.

Remember that Crosby was a Rocket Richard winner himself.  He has the ability to do it, but now that he isn’t the only star player on the team, he feels the need to pass the puck.  A LOT. Like, way too much.

Yeah, Crosby is not as young as he once was, but he hasn’t lost much skill at all.  I do not think this is an issue at all.  He just needs to play with confidence and be a little more selfish with the puck.

You want to see Crosby’s production trend in the upwards direction?  Tell him to shoot.

_________________________________________________________________________

Grant Franjione: Two questions for you: how do you explain the Penguins complete inability to bounce back from even 1 goal deficits when trailing after 2 periods of play?  Also, when I watch the Penguins, it just seems like chances to score in today’s NHL are just super tough to come by, but yet I see less offensively talented teams have occasional outbursts of 4, 5, or even 6 goals in a game. What are those teams doing that the Penguins aren’t?  Are they just luckier?

Brad Franjione:  Well, let’s take this one question at a time.

So, from what I could remember, the Penguins were actually a pretty good comeback team when playing under Dan Bylsma.  They have been the exact opposite under Johnston.  Although some of the players change every year, the Penguins have had the same core players throughout this span.  So, is their inability to come back simply based on the head coach?

Well, the problem is that I FEEL like the Penguins were a good comeback team under Bylsma.  But I wanted to convince you AND myself that the Penguins were a much better comeback team under Bylsma than they are under Johnston.  So I decided to do some research and calculations.

From the beginning of the 2009-2010 season to the end of the 2013-2014 season, which is the time frame where Bylsma was the head coach (excluding his stint with Pens in 2009 when they won the Cup) the Penguins won 21.19% of their games when trailing going into the 3rd, which is good enough for 2nd in the NHL during that span.

Yeah, the 2nd best winning percentage when trailing going into the third period!

The Penguins are currently 0-21-5 in that category under Johnston.  Yikes.

Last year, the Penguins scored only 12 goals in 23 opportunities when they entered the 3rd period trailing.  In this situation, the Penguins were only scoring .53 goals per period, while they averaged .89 goals per period throughout the season.

This year, the Penguins are 0-3 in this situation, and have yet to score a goal when going into the 3rd down by at least a goal.

Oh, and I’m not done yet…

The Penguins, under their 5 full seasons under Bylsma, won 45.35% of their games when they allowed the first goal of the game.  Their NHL rank in this category in this 5 year span? 1st.  You heard me, 1st.  The best team in the NHL at winning games when allowing the first goal.

Under Johnston, the Penguins have only won 26.32% of these games.

Convinced yet?  If not, I have one more stat for you.

Under Johnston, it seems as though the Penguins have at least been pretty good at holding a lead when they get it.  They are 4-0 this season when scoring the first goal, and have not been trailing in any of these 4 games.

So, under Johnston, the Penguins have won 69.82% of their games when scoring the first goal.  Under Bylsma?  The Penguins won 74.47% of their games when scoring the first goal.

Why did they get rid of Bylsma again?

To answer the second part of your question, let me start with this.  The Penguins shooting percentage this year is 5%, which is 29th in the NHL.  Last year, the Penguins had a shooting percentage of 8.39%, which is less than the shooting percentage of any Penguins team under Dan Bylsma.

So, why are the Penguins not scoring a ton of goals with their offense?  Well, they aren’t scoring on many of their shots.

So, why aren’t they scoring on many of their shots?

Johnston’s strategy entails shot volume, which does seem pretty logical right?  The more pucks you throw on net, the more pucks that are going to go in.  At least, it seems that way…

To Johnston’s credit, the Penguins finished 4th in the NHL in shots per game last year, and currently sit in 4th place in the NHL this year in shots on goal per game.  But is shot volume really the answer?

Here is my thought: when a coach preaches about shot volume, as a player, you are going to focus on shooting the puck (unless your name is Sidney Crosby, then you’re never going to shoot the puck).  However, I think this gives the players a mentality of “let’s make sure we get shots on goal.”  In other words, they’re shooting to shoot.

They’re not shooting to score.

I think this is the underlying difference.  Shot volume is important, but the some of those shots need to come on quality chances, and the players have to shoot to score, not just to shoot.

_________________________________________________________________________

That concludes this week’s Q and A!  I’ll be doing the same thing next Tuesday!  As always, thank you again to everyone who keeps up with me, and a special thanks to those who participated in my first Q and A session.

Remember to follow me on Twitter @FranjiPensPress and like me on Facebook at Franjione Pens Press.

My next article will be up late on Wednesday night after the Penguins face off against the Capitals on rivalry night.

Tuesday’s Q and A’s

Who Is At Fault Here?

Johnston

The Penguins lost a tough one 4-1 to the Dallas Stars on home ice Thursday night.  The Penguins dominated the first 6 minutes of the game, and arguably played their best hockey they have played all season.

There is just one problem: they didn’t score any goals during this span.

Following the 6 minute dominance by the Pens, Stars defenseman Johnny Oduya took a wrist shot from the point that literally floated in on goal.  The puck found it’s way past Fleury, and the Stars took a 1-0 lead and never looked back.

This is really all you need to know in regards to a recap.  There wasn’t much else exciting that went on.  The Penguins had a 5 on 3 late in the game down 3 goals, where they pulled Fleury and made it a 6 on 3 situation.  As usual, the powerplay was a little something like “Crosby to Malkin to Crosby to Kessel to Letang to Hornqvist to Crosby to…intercepted by Dallas and cleared.”

Adding to the stats, the Penguins are now 0-4 when allowing the first goal, and have been either trailing or tied throughout the entirety of these 4 games.

In addition, that 1.67 goals per game drops to 1.57 goals per game after they only scored 1 goal tonight.  AND the defense gave up 4 goals against a very good Dallas Stars offense, who play a lot like how the Penguins SHOULD play.  This put the Penguins goals against average at 2.14.

Didn’t I just publish an article about this?  Oh yeah… What a coincidence!!

So, who is at fault here?

Here is the guy that is not at fault: Jim Rutherford.  He went out this offseason and gave the coaching staff the pieces to work with, which is his job.  Yeah, their defense isn’t necessarily anything fantastic, but it shouldn’t have to be with the offensive players that Rutherford brought in during the offseason.

So ruling out Jim Rutherford, there are only 2 “people” to blame here.  One is the players, and one is the head coach.  Let’s talk about the players first.

The Penguins have been getting their fair share of chances.  They still rank 2nd in the NHL in shots per game.  So why is the goal total so low with all the talent they have?

Here is NOT the answer to that question: Well, they ran into a hot goaltender tonight…

Is anyone else tired of that argument?  I certainly am.  Every once in a while, a team runs into a goalie that is playing well, but it should not be an every game thing.  I don’t really care about Neimi’s history against the Penguins, today was a new game and the Penguins had a chance to beat him and didn’t.  It’s as simple as that.

It’s on the players to do what they’re supposed to do and score.  It’s on the players to be able to keep their heads in the game when they give up a goal early in the first period to go down 1-0.  Those kind of things are on the players.

The rest is on the coach.

I have no idea what upper management is thinking right now, but I would have Mike Johnston on a very very VERY short leash right now.

Even though the Penguins are 3-4, which is actually a pretty good record considering their team statistics right now, they have not been scoring goals.  To me, this is mainly attributed to the coach.

He has stuck with the line of Kunitz, Crosby, and Kessel since day one.  I have news for you Johnston: it’s not working.  He has stuck with Hornqvist, Malkin, and Perron for most of the time, after making the obvious move of shifting Plotnikov to the 3rd line.  This line hasn’t worked either.

To top it off, one of your best offensive players, Daniel Sprong, has been logging a team-low in ice time while getting an occasional shift on the fourth line.

Something doesn’t add up here…

Johnston needs to make a change, and I mean as early as Saturday when the Penguins play the red hot Predators.  (Pekka Rinne will be in goal, and I’m already ruling out the “we ran into a hot goaltender” excuse, because I can almost guarantee the Penguins won’t score more than 2 on Saturday)

One thing that may help is making some line changes.  Clearly, the line combinations Johnston has right now are not working.  Kunitz has been below average for at least a year now, Hornqvist has not looked as effective as he can be with Malkin, and Kessel and Crosby just have not found that chemistry yet.

In addition, the top pairing of Cole and Letang has looked a bit sloppy, and understandably so.  Ian Cole is not a top 2 defenseman.  This is not a knock on Cole, he is just not quite that good.  I like him on the team a lot, but he is playing way too large of a role to be effective.

With Johnston, it starts with some line changes if he wants this team to start scoring.  They are getting the shots he wants, but the goals are not there.  Here would be my lines for Saturday night’s game if I was in Mike Johnston’s position:

Forwards

Sprong – Crosby – Hornqvist

Dupuis – Malkin – Kessel

Kunitz – Bonino – Perron

Rust – Cullen – Porter/Plotnikov

Defensemen

Letang – Maatta

Cole – Dumoulin

Lovejoy – Scuderi/Clendening

Let’s talk about what I changed here (at least the big changes).

First of all, put Hornqvist back with Crosby.  They worked together so well last year, but because Phil Kessel is here clearly Crosby has to be the one that plays with him…

Put Sprong on the first line.  Does he deserve anything less at this point?  The Penguins need goals, and that’s exactly what Sprong gives you.  He has speed, finese, and an NHL shot that he is not afraid to use at any time.

Move Kessel with Malkin.  Malkin has been the most dominant Penguins player by a long shot thus far in the season.  I think Kessel’s production increases with Malkin rather than playing with Sid who is just gonna play the “you shoot it, no you shoot it” card with Kessel.  One more time: remember James Neal?  That guy who scored 40 goals for the Penguins a few years ago?  Yeah, he played with Malkin…just saying.

Let Dupuis play on the second line.  Dupuis plays with energy and hustle and it’s a treat to watch him play.  He makes the second line complete and provides the “defensive presence” if Malkin and Kessel get trapped deep in the zone.  Plus who else slots here?  Kunitz/Perron?  Ummmm…no.

Kunitz and Perron get dropped to third line.  Both of these guys have been so subpar this season.  Kunitz is looking like the Kunitz of last season, which is not good.  Kunitz has 1 point in his last 26 games dating back to last season.  1 singular point.  Perron is invisible out there for the most part, and still has not looked like the David Perron they acquired that lit up the stat sheet in his first 10 or so games with the Pens.  I do not mind them as third line players on this team, but as 1st and 2nd line guys respectively?  I don’t think so.

Put Letang and Maatta together.  I was not for this early in the season, but the Penguins cannot get anything working on their back end, and I think this pair would be a great first pair.  Plus, I like Cole and Dumoulin partnered up.

Overall, I am placing the blame on Johnston more than the players.  The players need to produce, but if Johnston is continuing to play a dwindling Chris Kunitz on the first line and sit one of his best forwards, then it makes it very hard for the forwards to do anything effective.  They’re just banging their heads off of a cement wall at this point.  That cement wall being the one that is put in front of the goal they’re trying to shoot at.

Also, just remember, this isn’t just a little bit of a “rough patch” at the beginning of the season.  This is a carry-over from last year.  The Penguins in their last 27 games, including last year and the playoffs, are 8-19 with a 1.63 goals for per game.  They have scored more than 3 goals only once during this stretch, and have been held to 0 or 1 goals in 14 of the 27 games.  This is concerning.

Look out Johnston, because if management knows what is best for this team, you better do something about this team… and FAST.

On the bright side of things, congrats to Nick Bonino for his first goal in a Penguins uniform.  His goal was entirely an individual effort, and a great one at that.  Glad to see him on the score sheet.

Anyways, thank you for everyone who read my stuff!  I’ll be posting an article Saturday night about the Penguins vs. Predators game.

Also, remember to like me on Facebook (Franjione Pens Press) and/or follow me on twitter (@FranjiPensPress) if you like what you’re reading.

Who Is At Fault Here?

Shoot the Puck!

crosby scores

How many times have you watched a Penguins game and yelled at the TV with something along the lines of “C’mon [insert player here], shoot the puck!”

If your answer is 0, try again.

If your answer is a few times every game, then that’s more like it.

Nothing makes me more angry than when the Penguins are in the zone, particularly on the power play, and Sidney Crosby (or any player for that matter) passes up a shot to try to thread a needle to a man who is on the opposite end of the ice with 3+ guys standing in the passing lane.  If the pass gets through, there’s a chance it goes in, and it looks like a spectacular play.  But when it doesn’t get through?

Yeah, it’s not a shot.  Last time I checked, you can’t score without shooting the puck.  The Penguins need to do more of that this season.

Head coach Mike Johnston always emphasizes shot volume.  His thought process is simple:  The more shots you take, the more goals you get.  So, is it really that simple?

Yes.  It really is that simple.

Let’s take a look at last season.  Mike Johnston specifically said that if the Penguins could register 35 shots on goal every game, they would be very successful.  So let’s go based on this.

Last year, the Penguins record was 27-22-5 when they did not record 35 shots or more.  This means that through these 54 games, the Penguins had only 59 points and put up 1.09 points per game.  This means that in an 82 game season, they would be on pace for 89 points, which would probably miss the playoffs most years.

Now, let’s look at their record when they registered 35 shots or more.  The Penguins had 28 games where they accomplished this task, putting up a 16-5-7 record and 39 points and 1.39 points per game.  This means that in an 82 game season, they would have been on pace for 114 points! This would not only put the Penguins in the playoffs, but possibly win them a Presidents Trophy as well.

Shooting the puck is even all the more important now, especially with the lineup the Penguins are putting out there.  They are absolutely stacked up front, and if they shoot, they will score at least a few.

If the Penguins want success this year, it really is as easy as 3 simple words:

Shoot. The. Puck!

Finally, the 7th article in 7 days is done!  Now, buckle up baby.

The Penguins season is right around the corner.

Expect a blog post from myself after Thursday night’s game about my impressions on the game action.  Let’s Go Pens!

Shoot the Puck!