Insider Only First sign of trouble for Penguins started mid-season in changing playing style, type of team they initially wanted to be & more in Today’s TIOPSDailyFive


*Rumblings, Musings, Opinions*
johnston1. The first sign of trouble for the Penguins that the head coach and general manager were overmatched started around late December.
When Mike Johnston was hired he touted the Penguins being a puck possession and a tempo and pace team.
“My basic framework of the system is puck possession, puck management, tempo and pace,” Johnston said at his inductory press conference last June.
“We want to give our players as many options as possible. I’m more inclined in teams I’ve coached over the years, to really play a pace game. I want to play a pace game. Certainly like core of players here, defense and forward to play that style of game. Think Pittsburgh was built on the makeup of that style,” Johnston said.
The key area that’s missing for months now is tempo and pace. The first five to six weeks of the season the Penguins played with a high tempo similar to how they played under Dan Bylsma.
What changed?
Well once there was some film on Johnston’s system and tendencies, good coaches adjusted, but the Penguins got spooked by how they were matching up against bigger, stronger teams, and suddenly Johnston changed his philosophy and so did Jim Rutherford.
Johnston bought in that the Penguins needed to become a team that plays low scoring games, trying to make Sidney Crosby into Anze Kopitar with more defensive responsibilities and for Rutherford, he went from believing that the Penguins needed four scoring lines to win in the playoffs to becoming obsessed with adding grit out of the blue.
While the Penguins have no identity as a team and let others dictate how a game is going to be played far too often, off the ice, the GM and head coach let others dictate what type of team the Penguins were going to be, a contrast of what type of team they wanted to be.
Rutherford in late February: “The thing I like about this group is we’ve been able to play low scoring games, tight games and we’ve been disciplined in those games,” Rutherford said. “We’re playing the way we need to be prepared to play in playoffs.”

2. When it comes to the Penguins top power play unit, one scouts view of the Penguins issues on the power play right now is they have no shot threat from the point without Kris Letang. Teams are able to back away and play towards Crosby on the half wall.
Derrick Pouliot can be an excellent distributor but he’s tentative to shoot the puck.

Rick Tocchet is a big believer in shots from the point and crashing the net on the power play. We only saw glimpses of the Penguins doing what Tocchet wants early in the season.
The Penguins will make changes on the top unit tonight with Chris Kunitz being taken off the top unit.
Paul Martin and Derrick Pouliot will run the points. Neither player, especially Martin, gives the Penguins a shot threat from the point.
Ian Cole would be an ideal option to give the Penguins that Matt Niskanen type element they had last year in a player with a booming shot from the point.

nhl_g_sutter_b1_5763. Brandon Sutter has 19 goals this season and is having his best season statistically since 2009-2010 when he scored a career high 21 goals. Sutter remains one of those players you just don’t know what to make of him. He has his good but also bad attributes. For long stretches it appears the Penguins have a third line center problem but then Sutter shows great flashes in short stretches like last year in the playoffs and the stretch he’s in right now.
The conclusion on Sutter is he might be the Penguins 4th best forward but what’s problematic is the Penguins need him to be a great third line center and he’s never going to be one.

4. Elliotte Friedman on Sportsnet Radio Monday stated the obvious in that the Mike Babcock to Pittsburgh rumors are going to be nuts if there’s a coaching change. “If Pittsburgh doesn’t get into the playoffs, you are going to hear Mike Babcock rumors out of the wazoo,” Friedman said.” If Pittsburgh doesn’t get into the playoffs, It’s [Mike Babcock rumors] going to go crazy. It’s going to start from Pittsburgh and it’s going to be nuts, the Mike Babcock rumors you’re going to hear out of there.”

cueto5. If there’s one element the Pittsburgh Pirates are missing, it’s a Johnny Cueto type ace. Like David Price last summer, they have the farm system to make a serious play for Cueto if he goes on the block this summer. Expected to be a prized free agent in the winter, the Pirates even have the money to sign Cueto, but we know that isn’t happening.

— Check out the TIOPS Daily Five Monday – Friday’s —

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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