Pittsburgh Penguins are not balanced and firing bench coach won’t fix their problems

This is an example of the age-old practice of firing the coach because you can’t fire the players. The problem with Pittsburgh is that they lack leadership, writes Rob McKenzie.
Pittsburgh Penguins' Mike Johnston, left, listens to assistant coach Rick Tocchet as he gives instructions during an NHL hockey game against the Los Angeles Kings in Pittsburgh Friday, Dec. 11, 2015. The Kings won 3-2 in a shootout. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh Penguins' Mike Johnston, left, listens to assistant coach Rick Tocchet as he gives instructions during an NHL hockey game against the Los Angeles Kings in Pittsburgh Friday, Dec. 11, 2015. The Kings won 3-2 in a shootout. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Yeah, like it was all the coach’s fault.

The Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday dismissed Mike Johnston as their bench boss. This is an example of the age-old practice of firing the coach because you can’t fire the players.

The problem with Pittsburgh, as I have written before, is that they lack leadership -- their best player, Sidney Crosby, is not by nature a leader.

Read more: Pittsburgh Penguins seem poles apart this NHL season

So far this season the Penguins have 15 wins in their first 28 games. More was expected. Johnston emphasised team defence; perhaps as a consequence, the offence has sputtered. Crosby is on pace for 18 goals; in the last full year before Johnston arrived, he scored 36.

And so the Penguins have hired Mike Sullivan, who had been coaching their farm team. Predictably the new guy says he will loosen the reins and let the team rediscover its offensive verve.

But back in June 2014, it was a different story. The Penguins fired Dan Bylsma and hired Johnston after being bounced by the New York Rangers in the playoffs. New York’s well-rounded game was too much for the score-first Penguins.

At the time of his hiring, Johnston said: “Everything we do is setting the table for the play-offs”.

He tried to change the mindset but the mindset would not change. In his one playoff round the Penguins lost, again, to the Rangers.

But his idea was right: teams that succeed in the post-season require a balanced approach. Defenders should create scoring chances, forwards should help out on defence.

Pittsburgh is a sick team that keeps changing doctors because it is in denial about the rot within.

rmckenzie@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE

Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/TheNationalSport

Published: December 14, 2015 04:00 AM

SHARE