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Insider Only Steigerwald: Mike Johnston Just Had to Go

agnew

MONDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Guess how many players are ahead of Sidney Crosby on the NHL.com scoring leaders page.

87.

Yep. His 19 points put him at 88th on the list. He’s 27 points behind Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks, who now has points in 26 straight games.

There are plenty of people in the media and on Twitter who will tell you it’s because Crosby just doesn’t have it anymore or that he hasn’t been the same player since his concussion.

I think there’s a pretty good chance it was the coach.

The fact that there are also 111 players who have more points than Phil Kessel, who’s been so healthy that he hasn’t missed a game since 2009, suggests that the coach who was fired on Saturday, Mike Johnston, might not be the best guy to coach high scoring players.

In his last season under Dan Bylsma, Crosby had 36 goals and 68 assists. His 104 points led the league.

His total dropped to 84 points last season and under Johnston this season he was on pace for about 60 points.

Crosby’s shooting percentage in 2013-14 was 13.9.

Last season under Johnston it was 11.8.

This season it’s 7.6.

He was a plus 18 two years ago. Last year plus five and this year minus 6.

Come on. Does anybody really think Sidney Crosby turned into Tyler Kennedy in 18 months?

Last season, injuries made it impossible for Johnston to get a chance to show what kind of an NHL head coach he could be after lots of success at the Junior level.

And GM Jim Rutherford admitted that he was partly to blame for not giving Johnston enough of the puck-moving defensemen he needs to run his system, but Johnston apparently tried to force his system on a team that wasn’t built for it.

He managed to turn Crosby and then Kessel, two of the most prolific scorers of the last 10 years, into guys who look like they belong on a third line.

Johnston just had to go.

The new coach, Mike Sullivan, made it clear, beginning with his first practice, that he plans to make all of his talented forwards the focus of his approach.

I have never understood why any coach would want Crosby to do anything but attack the opposition with as much speed as possible. Have you seen this guy skate? Why would you ever want him to be bringing up the rear of your attack?

Maybe the new coach should take another look at Crosby and Kessel together for a while. That’s why the Penguins brought Kessel here from Toronto.

I don’t know if Sullivan can do what Bylsma did and turn this team into a Stanley Cup winner, but I have a feeling the Penguins are going to be a lot more fun to watch and I think you’ll see number 87 a lot higher on the scoring leader page by playoff time.

BEST TEAM IN AFC?

–The Steelers’ offense is unstoppable. It lit up one of the best defenses in the NFL on Sunday in Cincinnati and it’s the offense that nobody is going to want to face in the playoffs.

Still, it’s a good thing for the Steelers that Andy Dalton was knocked out of the game in the first quarter with a broken thumb because the Steelers defense is going to have a hard time stopping any legitimate NFL quarterback.

Before he broke his thumb, Dalton gave the Steelers a gift with a hideous interception inside the five-yard line and he didn’t exactly light them up when he came to Heinz Field early in the season, but it would have been a lot different if he had played the entire game in Cincinnati.

The Steelers deserve a lot of credit for being 8-5 after having to withstand injuries to their starting quarterback, but their bad luck has been more than offset by some good luck when it comes to opposing quarterbacks.

Here’s a list of quarterbacks the Steelers will have avoided in the second half of the season because of injuries.

Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco. (And you could throw Andy Dalton in there, too.)

Manning is expected to practice some this week but his foot injury is expected to keep him out of the Steelers game on Sunday.

Manning may not be what he used to be but I’m guessing that, when healthy, he’s still likely to do more damage to the Steelers defense than Brock Osweiler.

And as bad as the Ravens have been, they would have a decent chance of beating the Steelers in Baltimore in two weeks if Joe Flacco played quarterback.

They have little if any chance with Matt Schaub or Jimmy Clausen, who after starting for them in the 35-6 loss to the Seahawks yesterday is 1-12 as a starter.

What it all adds up to is the Steelers having an excellent chance of not only making the playoffs but actually winning at least one game.

They could win only two of their last three and still make it, but they would need teams ahead of them to cooperate.

That means the season could be riding on this week’s game with the Broncos.

And it says here that the Broncos defense which is leading the league in scoring, total defense, sacks and pass defense, will not be able to stop the Steelers’ offense. It’s that good.

Shame on the Steelers’ defense if it can’t come up big – in Heinz Field – against a guy making his fifth career start.

It also says here that, if they stay healthy, the Steelers will win at least one playoff game. As banged up as the Patriots are, the Steelers just might be the best team in the AFC right now.

Which team would you bet on at this point, the 10-3 Bengals with A.J. McCarron at quarterback or Ben Roethlisberger and the 8-5 Steelers?

About The Author

John Steigerwald

TIOPS Columnist

John Steigerwald, a life long Pittsburgher, has been covering PITTSBURGH sports since 1977 as a TV anchor/reporter, columnist radio reporter/commentator and talk show host. He is also the author of one of the best selling local books in Pittburgh history, "Just Watch The Game."

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