#1: It's really simple to sit behind a keyboard and heave criticism at a smarter hockey mind who, doubtlessly, has his finger on the pulse of the team and is infinitely more qualified to make decisions. In the course of a game, decisions must be made fast and furiously. Here comes the "..But"
..But, every game lately, it seems like Mike Johnston makes a decision that harms the team, or potentially could. There's putting Zach Sill on the ice in the last minute of a tie game in Philadelphia. There's the timeout in OT in that same game, giving Claude Giroux time to recover his wind, go back on the ice and score a goal. Or the running from matchups including pulling Sidney Crosby and David Perron off the ice from an offensive draw in a tie-game with 41 seconds left in the 3rd period just because Jonathan Toews is on the ice. Multiple "too many men" on the ice calls in the past few weeks. Maybe it's nothing, maybe it's something, but all these things are adding up.
#2 I noticed another last night a handful of minutes into the game. Seeing how teams roll out their lines initially has been interesting to me, I've tended to watch this closely. The story of the first 5 minutes played out like this:
The Pens started the Bennett-Sutter-Hornqvist line, perfectly fine line to open on the road (the Caps responded with their top line; Ovechkin-Backstrom-Beagle). 16 seconds in the Pens earn an offensive zone draw and send out Kunitz-Crosby-Perron to take advantage, chasing the Caps top line off the ice for them to counter Crosby (as they would all night) with Laich-Fehr-Ward and Orpik/Carlson, their best checking unit. So far, so good.
Those groups play for 50 seconds with the Pens getting the better of the action and Washington having to ice the puck, so Laich-Fehr-Ward are trapped and the Pens go to their third line of the night of Spaling-Lapierre-Downie. Fehr however wins the draw and the Caps are able to get a change, and they somewhat surprisingly decide to skip their 2nd line and roll out their 4th line (Chimera-Latta-Wilson). The Pens line stays on the ice, loses "field position" when their shift ends 50 seconds later after Fleury froze a puck from a long shot. The Pens go back to the Sutter line, for the d-zone draw, and the Caps get their second line (Kuznetsov-Johansson-Brouwer) a shift. These players go for 43 seconds, with the Pens shifting back "field position" when Holtby freezes the puck.
The Pens take advantage of the o-zone draw by putting the Crosby line back, for a second o-zone start. Accordingly, the Caps go right back to the Fehr line, meeting that matchup and skipping the Backstrom line. These two lines play for over a minute, with the Caps finally dumping the puck in and getting a change at 3:45, and the Pens shuffle off at the same time both making a first full-scale change-on-the-fly.
It's now 3:45 into the game and the Backstrom line has only played the top 16 seconds, but they are on the ice now. The Penguins 4th line Sill-Ebbett-Adams steps on the ice for their first shift of the game, and they're staring down Ovechkin, Backstrom and Green, the three most skilled offensive players on Washington. Surprisingly, for the next minute the Pens crew mucks, grinds and keeps the puck in the o-zone. They're at the end of the shift and Ebbett changes to Lapierre and Martin steps on too. But the others can't get off the ice and Backstrom finds a wide open Alzner who has time to float a puck past Sill and to the waiting stick of Ovechkin. Goal.
#3 That was lengthy, but the point served is this- Barry Trotz and the Caps played the Pens. Mike Johnston saw his 4th line go out on the ice at the same time as the Caps top line. If this was a decision Johnston was comfortable with, he has a severe over-estimation of his worst players. If it happened just based on the course of the game, that's still not much better, it was the first on-the-fly change of the game less than 4 minutes in with other options to go with.
Pittsburgh played it very aggressive by double shifting the Crosby line for o-zone starts, but the plan most clearly backfired when the Caps kept the Backstrom line fresh and were able to weather the storm with the Fehr line. The Pens didn't/couldn't get a good matchup on the Caps top line and the results were totally predictable, the puck ended up in the net.
#4 Quietly, Chris Kunitz got bumped off the top power play unit Wednesday night. Patric Hornqvist returned and jumped into the net-front role and the Pens elected to keep Paul Martin on the point with Kris Letang. David Perron and Sidney Crosby are the other two forwards. When Evgeni Malkin returns, he figures to take over on the point for Martin, which would mean that Kunitz has been replaced by Perron. If they keep running out that unit the way it worked last night, at least.
#5 Kunitz also got bumped off the Crosby line late in the game and Johnston united a Perron-Crosby-Hornqvist top line. It'll be interesting to see if he goes back to that once again moving forward, as it has all the makings to be a strong line down the road. That would free Kunitz up to play with Malkin which could free Beau Bennett up to rejoin Brandon Sutter and the 3 rd line.
#6 On a recent podcast ($), Dejan Kovacevic and Mark Madden talked about Jaromir Jagr, saying that Evgeni Malkin said that he could play with Jagr. Imagine the top line I mentioned above with Kunitz-Malkin-Jagr follow up. Who knows what would have to happen with the salary cap (or if the Devils would be interested in sending JJ68 to a division rival). Odds are it won't happen, but it's fun to dream. Josh Yohe also said on Madden that the team has had basic internal discussions about Jagr.
#7 I hate to throw the cold water on Jagr watch, since I'm one of Jagr's biggest fans (seriously...I have one tattoo and it includes a large 68) but I can't see the salary cap concerns alleviated. And that's IF Jagr's spurning of the Pens is water under the bridge to Mario and company and IF the Devils are even open to dealing Jagr back here to Pittsburgh. Seems so unlikely, but deep down I think I just don't want to open up hope only to be crushed again.
#8 Based on strength of schedule, the Penguins should have a sunnier week. Of the 5 teams on their upcoming schedule only 1 (NASH) is solidly in the playoffs - and their best player, Pekka Rinne, is hurt. 2 others are way out of it (NJD, EDM) and 2 more are barely on the right side of the playoff bubble (VAN, CGY). Of course, the Pens played one of their most frustrating games last year in an OT loss in Edmonton, so as we all know just because they probably should win a game doesn't mean they actually will. However, the odds look pretty good.
#9 Pens record when they out-shoot a team this year: 16-4-4. Pens record when they get out-shot: 11-9-4. That's a simplistic look and there are other factors at play for a hockey game, of course, but in this system and scheme getting more shots on goal is an obvious and natural advantage to winning. Lately, they've been getting out-shot a lot, so you know what that means. Tying this into point #8, the Pens should focus on getting their "center drive" that they showed off so well vs. Winnipeg back, and have the chance to get a lot of pucks to the net since, in theory, they're playing some lesser teams than what they've seen recently.
#10 A lot of talk in the Maxim Lapierre for Marcel Goc conversation was reasonably raised that this can't be the Pens final move. If they trot out a Sill-Lapierre-Adams line, they are going to get killed. If Lapierre can sub in for Sill and then Pens add another 4 th liner, maybe, just maybe they could have a chance. So who are some possibilities? Florida won last night to break a 5 game losing streak but sit 6 points out of a playoff berth with that possibility slipping away (Sports Club Stats has them as a 13.8% chance for playoffs). If they become sellers at the deadline and the Pens can pickup Sean Bergenheim for a similar price to getting Goc last season (a 3 rd round pick) that could do a world of good for the Penguins. Bergenheim could be on the Pens top 9, which would only push depth players like Nick Spaling, Steve Downie and Blake Comeau further down the lines.