New Penguins coach Mike Johnston takes closer look at right fits for his style
August 26, 2014 1:43 AM
Mike Johnston was hired as Penguins head coach in June.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Mike Johnston has spent more than a little time in his first two months as coach of the Penguins watching video from their 2013-14 season.
Not so much to figure out what went wrong in the past -- like why they were eliminated from the playoffs by a lower-seeded opponent for the fifth consecutive spring -- as to get a sense of what he can expect in the future.
And Johnston appears to be optimistic about what he has seen.
"As far as player personnel for me and the style we want to play -- the up-tempo style, the puck-moving style, good decisions with the puck, play with pace, play with speed -- I like the personnel," he said Monday.
"I like it from the defensive point of view, where we've got defensemen who can escape the zone really quick. Make good decisions. Good skaters who can jump up into the play and create on the attack.
"From a forward's perspective, I think right now that ... we have some real quality players returning. Then we have some more depth than maybe they had at the end of last year through[out] the lineup."
The Penguins have lost two second-line wingers since last season ended, as James Neal was traded to Nashville and Jussi Jokinen went to Florida as a free agent. However, top-six winger Patric Hornqvist was acquired from the Predators in the Neal trade, and Pascal Dupuis will return from a knee injury that ended his season in December.
Although Dupuis has fit in nicely on Sidney Crosby's right side in recent seasons, it isn't clear where he and Hornqvist will be deployed this season.
Johnston said he is more interested in finding two forwards whose games mesh well than in assembling permanent three-man units, which means there is no shortage of potential combinations up front. And, most likely, that there will be plenty of experimentation in the six exhibition games.
"I know [Chris] Kunitz and Crosby play well together, so that's a good pair," Johnston said. "Both Jokinen and Neal are gone, so I've got to find a good fit for [second-line center Evgeni Malkin]. That will be very important early.
"Also, a good fit for [No. 3 center Brandon] Sutter. I want to make sure that he has somebody with him who's sort of a stable guy, which gives him at least one stable guy on his line that he can play with.
"There are lots of guys -- not a lot, but there's four or five guys -- who could go into any of those spots up top. You've got [Steve] Downie, you've got [Marcel] Goc. [Craig] Adams can move around.
"You've got Dupuis, obviously, coming back. He can play anywhere in the lineup. He certainly has played well with Sid before. Can he play well with [Malkin]? That's what we've got to see.
"Hornqvist will be a guy we'll watch closely in camp. I think he might be a guy who could play really well with [Malkin], but again, we've got to take a look at where everybody fits in.
"[Beau] Bennett, he's going to be a key guy, now that he's healthy. How he starts the year [is important], because I think he's got enough skill to be a real key component on some of those lines. Then, maybe, we have to look at [No. 1 draft choice Kasperi] Kapanen. He looked really good at the development camp, but it was development camp. But we'll take a close look at him."
Although Johnston said he and his staff haven't focused on analyzing the systems and strategies of former coach Dan Bylsma, they have paid close attention to how the Penguins ran their highly ranked power play and penalty-kill last season.
"The Penguins had great special teams, so we have taken a look at the special teams and said, 'OK, what did they do well on the power play? What did they do well on the penalty kill?' " he said. "I said, 'We don't want to re-invent the wheel, but here are some things we want to do. How did they do it last year?'
"We've analyzed special teams a little more than we did [the rest of] the Pittsburgh game. We wanted to make sure we took a close look at exactly what they were doing, in accordance with how we want them to play this year."
NOTES -- Team officials say defensemen Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot, both of whom had offseason shoulder surgery, are recovering on schedule. Although Maatta might be able to return a couple of weeks before Pouliot, there is no firm word on when either will be cleared to practice and/or play. ... A list of players who will be offered training-camp tryouts still is being put together. ... Individual game tickets for this season will go on sale at 10 a.m. Saturday. They can be purchased online, at the arena box office, by phone and at Ticketmaster outlets.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.
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