By Larry Snyder
For the many followers of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the question I think on many people’s minds is simply, “How much longer will Mike Johnston stay at the helm of the Black and Gold?”
Some of the numbers do not bode well for the Pens skipper. Here are some facts about the Pens.
Josh Yohe of dkpittsburghsports.com pointed out that Mike Johnston’s squad has been shutout 10 times in his 99 contests before tonight’s game against the Minnesota Wild. It works out to a 10.1 percent of his match-ups as the head coach. When Dan Bylsma was in charge, Pittsburgh was shutout a total of 20 times over his 401 games as the bench boss. That works out to a 4.9 percent of the time.
A team with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang is 29th in the National Hockey League on the power play after 17 games. The Penguins are 7-of-57 with the man advantage this season. It is a 12.3 percentage of success. Neither Johnston or assistant coach Rick Tocchet can seem to unleash this team’s attack when the opponent is in the penalty box.
Pittsburgh has been outshot in seven of 17 contests which is 41.1 percent at this point. The Penguins are 24th in the league, tied with the Anaheim Ducks, in permitting 31.0 shots per contest.
The Penguins are 10-7-0 with 20 points and in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division. They are one point ahead of the Florida Panthers (8-7-3, 19 points) and the Tampa Bay Lightning (8-9-3, 19 points) for the final Wild Card slot in the Eastern Conference. You have to wonder, if the future is supposed to be now, shouldn’t this team be more than just on the cusp of the playoffs?
But, that leads us to an even greater question to ponder, is there someone out there that would be a better choice for the rest of the 2015-2016 campaign? Let’s take a look at the list of potential interim head coaches for the Penguins.
1) Rick Tocchet, 51, has been an assistant coach with the Pens since June 25, 2014. The former right wing was the head coach of Tampa Bay from 2008 to 2010. The native of Scarborough, Ontario was a combined 53-69-26 with the Lightning, although they did finish out of the playoffs. Tocchet ran the power play last season and the unit finished 10th in the league at 19.3 percent. They collected 49 goals on 254 power play opportunites. It has been reported that Johnston has taken over the unit during its struggles this season.
2) Gary Agnew joined Pittsburgh as an assistant coach on July 9, 2014. He had served as an assistant coach with the St. Louis Blues and the Columbus Blue Jackets prior to coming on board with the Black and Gold. The 55-year-old was the head coach of the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League from 2000 to 2006 where he claimed 220 victories and is the winningest coach in Syracuse history. Agnew has been in charge of the Pens penalty kill unit and it is running at 85.7 percent efficiency this season which is good for fifth in the league.
3) Jacques Martin is in his second campaign serving on the Penguins staff. He was hired on August 9, 2013. The 61-year-old has been a head coach four times over the course of his career: with the St. Louis Blues (1986-88), the Ottawa Senators (1995-2004), the Florida Panthers (2005-08) and the Montreal Canadiens (2009-12). Martin has 613 wins and 12 playoff appearances in 17 seasons.
4) Mike Sullivan has the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League at 12-1-0. WBS is in first place in the AHL’s Eastern Division. The team is on an 11-game winning streak as of Tuesday morning. The 47-year-old former center was head coach of the Boston Bruins for two seasons and an assistant coach with the Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers, and Vancouver Canucks.
5) Do you go outside the organization like the Blue Jackets did with John Tortorella? Do you bring in somebody like Ron Wilson or Brent Sutter or who ever may be available to take charge of the Pens? The ownership is trying to sell this team and may not want to pay the money for a veteran coach who may or may not work out.
Could any of these gentlemen he be the one to get this team back on track? If Johnston is replaced, I would vote to give Martin the nod at this point with Sullivan as my second choice. Let me and your fellow fans know your thoughts in the comments section below.