To say this has been the most interesting week of the season for the Pittsburgh Penguins would be an understatement.
It figures that most of this went down while I was away on vacation.READ MORE: PTL Links: Dec. 6, 2021
Anyway, there’s a lot to cover, so let’s jump right into it.
The writing had been on the wall for a while.
The Penguins are on the fringe of the playoff picture, can’t score goals, the power play is anything but powerful, etc.
Mike Johnston was (at best) the Penguins’ THIRD choice to replace Dan Bylsma. Seeing him be handed his walking papers is about as surprising as finding out that water is wet.
Gary Agnew was also relived of his duties.
Somehow, Rick Tocchet remains. You know, the guy in charge of the power play (allegedly).
The obvious line of thinking here is a coaching change will provide a spark for a team that has looked largely disinterested this season.
I don’t necessarily think Johnston is a bad coach. He’s clearly intelligent and understands the game.
For example, do you remember the vague pregame interviews Bylsma used to give?
During those same interviews, Johnston always tried to clearly explain what he was looking for on the ice. He made the concepts accessible for casual fans.
I just don’t think he was right for this team anymore. Or, his system wasn’t right anymore.
It’s a system that calls for mobile, puck-moving defensemen.
Outside of Kris Letang and Olli Maatta, the Penguins are lacking in that department.
At least General Manager Jim Rutherford admitted that he could have done more after the departures of Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff.
“In fairness to our coach, part of this falls on me because I didn’t get the defensemen that was necessary to have more movement from the back end. I think more puck movement from the back end generates more scoring opportunities,” Rutherford said.
Which leads us to…
At bare minimum, the hiring of Mike Sullivan has made this team interesting to watch again.
After two games, Sullivan seems intent on getting this team to play to its strengths.
While Johnston seemed happy to play 2-1 hockey games, Sullivan appears to be willing to let his stars be stars.
Sullivan won’t necessarily sacrifice defense in this equation. Contrary to popular belief, you can be defensively responsible without being a boring and lackluster hockey team.
While Sullivan has started 0-2 as the head coach, the team showed a willingness to actually shoot the puck and crash for rebounds.
For those keeping track, those two things are kind of important aspects of scoring goals.
Despite taking 79 shots over the past two games, the Penguins have only scored one goal.
This likely won’t be a quick fix project for Sullivan. Let’s give him and the players a couple of weeks before elevating panic levels.
I will say, it’s kind of refreshing to see a coach show some fire on the bench. Seeing Sullivan barking at players after mistakes is a welcome change. I’ve thought for a while that the Penguins needed a guy that would hold all players accountable.
Sullivan seems to fit that mold.
My only gripe so far is having Evgeni Malkin quarterbacking the power play. Sure, he has a wicked slap shot and can distribute the puck from there. To me, it’s just playing with fire.
We saw it a couple of times last night. Boston broke up a play and went back up the ice with an odd-man rush shorthanded. At one point in the third period, Malkin and Sidney Crosby were the only two guys back on a shorthanded chance for the Bruins.
Again, things take time and it’s worth trying something new, especially when the power play has been abysmal. I just don’t think this formation is a winner.
Rob Scuderi was a last-minute scratch for the Penguins prior to Monday’s game against Washington.
Many immediately assumed Mike Sullivan had watched some footage of Scuderi’s performances this season and came to his senses.READ MORE: Pittsburgh Weather: Morning Rain, Snow Showers On The Horizon
To our surprise – dare I say, delight – the Penguins took our collective attention away from the game with a simple announcement.
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 15, 2015
I couldn’t tell you what happened for the rest of the third period. I think the Caps scored a couple of goals, but who knows?
I don’t want to make this sound like I despise Scuderi or anything. He was a vital “piece” to the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup in 2009. He’s provided us with some great memories, but watching his regression over the past couple seasons has been gut-wrenching.
He’s not the same player and it’s been difficult to watch. Age will do that.
So, unloading his $3.375 million contract comes as a bit of a shock. Granted, the Penguins are still paying one-third of it in addition to Trevor Daley. Still, this feels like a big win for the Penguins.
Daley’s defensive game has received some criticism, but he can certainly move the puck better than Scuderi. He also scored 16 goals as a member of the Dallas Stars last year.
By comparison, Scuderi has 8 goals in his career. So, there’s that.
The Penguins were dealt a major blow with the retirement of Pascal Dupuis.
For Dupuis, this is clearly the right decision. I don’t fault him at all for doing everything he possibly could to return to the game he loves. He exhausted every option and was left with retirement as his only option.
It always pains me to see someone forced to walk away as opposed to leaving on their own terms.
Dupuis still has it. He can still play. He’s one of the most well-respected guys in the league, let alone this team.
There were many roster issues with last year’s squad that stumbled down the stretch and into the playoffs. But, Dupuis’ absence was immense. (Yes, playing with five defensemen was also a slight problem.)
He’s that type of glue player that you need in the locker room. He led by example, never took a shift off and would do anything to help the team win.
It’s comical to think that he was the “throw-in” player in the Marian Hossa trade.
He instantly became a crowd favorite and will forever remain so.
We’ll certainly miss his quirky interviews, big smile, etc., but this is an easy decision.
Thanks for the memories, Dupuis.
Injuries, Injuries, Injuries
In addition to the great loss of Dupuis, the Penguins are now dealing with the absences of Beau Bennett, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury.
Letang has been placed on the IR with an undisclosed injury suffered against the Colorado Avalanche last week.
Bennett is also on the IR with an “upper-body” injury. He’s expected to miss 4-6 weeks.
As for Fleury, he will be out for a minimum of one to two weeks with a concussion.
To me, the one guy the Penguins couldn’t afford to lose this season is Fleury. Without him, the Penguins are in a whole lot more trouble than they currently find themselves.
Fleury has arguably been the Penguins’ MVP so far this season. For the record, I’d throw Evgeni Malkin into that discussion as well.
With all that’s been made about the Penguins’ struggles, Fleury has, for the most part, given his team a chance to win every night. He’s stolen a couple of wins as well.
Now, the Penguins will initially turn to Jeff Zatkoff to shoulder the load. Including Wednesday’s loss to Boston, Zatkoff has appeared in just six games this season.
It’s a pretty big ask for a guy who hasn’t seen much ice time to try and keep the ship from taking on even more water.
The only silver lining in this is that we’ll likely get a look at Matt Murray, who has been tearing up the AHL.
Last year, the 21-year-old took the AHL by storm. He led the league in GAA (1.58), save percentage (.941) and shutouts (12).
That’s essentially, the triple crown of goaltending.
He also had a mind-boggling shutout streak of 304 minutes and 11 seconds last year.
In any event, the Penguins need to get healthy and adjust to a new system.
That’s it for this week. Check back every Thursday for more observations on the Penguins. You can follow Casey Shea on Twitter here!MORE NEWS: Man Shot In The Head Inside Wilkinsburg Apartment