January 19, 2015
by Jason Mackey
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Mike Johnston sees it, too.
Penguins coach Mike Johnston
The Penguins have not played their best hockey over the past dozen games, a stretch where they’re 4-6-2.
The coach especially isn’t a fan of the past two, lopsided losses to the Islanders and Rangers.
“I didn’t like our last two games,” Johnston said by phone before the Penguins flew to Philadelphia. “I liked the first period of the Islanders game, for sure. Not the finish and (Sunday) afternoon, I didn’t think we had it at all, in any area of our game.”
The Penguins unexpectedly canceled practice Monday and instead had an off-ice workout. Many thanks to the Penguins media relations staff of Jen Bullano and Jason Seidling for getting Johnston on the phone. And thanks for him for doing it. Was very insightful and helpful in terms of providing quality coverage to you folks.
Got to ask Johnston about how crucial of a two-game stretch this is coming up: Tuesday at Philadelphia, Wednesday at home against the Blackhawks. I used part of his answer for Tuesday’s print-edition story, but I thought I might offer a little bit additional on here.
“For me, everything is about how we’re playing,” Johnston said. “Sometimes you may not come out on the right side of the score or sometimes you will. It’s still how you’re playing. That’s what you have to keep in focus as a coach: You may win some games. You may have a five-game winning streak. But how you’re playing may not be exactly the right way to be successful.
“Or you could be in a situation where you’ve lost a couple games in a row, and you’re actually doing some good things so you know you’re going to come out of it.”
Johnston and I talked about the impact of losing Patric Hornqvist and Blake Comeau, and I truly feel that’s what a lot of the recent struggles track back to. They’re tough. They play in front of the net. They lighten the load for other not-to-physical players.
Johnston likes the punch that Zach Sill brings. Bobby Farnham, too. But neither of them add much offensively. Hornqvist and Comeau do.
“Those are two key pieces and guys who have had great first halves for the team,” Johnston said. “Losing both of them at the same time, that was challenging for us.”
I also asked Johnston about his thinking behind playing Mark Arcobello with Evgeni Malkin on Sunday. I didn’t get it and still don’t.
Arcobello actually froze when Malkin fed him, wide-open, in the slot. Clammed up, unsure what to do. Another time, when Arcobello tried to work in front of the net, a Rangers defender knocked him over with a single whack.
He might turn out to be a fine fourth-line player, but those are two instances where Comeau thrived: Chemistry with Malkin, especially thinking at his speed and keeping it simple, and playing physical in front of the net.
“With Geno, the type of player we try to get with him is someone who can make plays, be a complementary player that way,” Johnston said. “It’s harder to play Farnham or Sill. Those are energy guys who are playing depth roles.
“Arcobello has eight goals so far. I don’t really know him as a player. I’m trying to see what he can do as a player. Comeau or Hornqvist would definitely be playing with Geno as they had been before.”
Hope you can read what I wrote for print. It’s worth your 50 cents, trust me.
Fellow beat man Josh Yohe has the club Tuesday in Philly. In case there’s one person out there who doesn’t follow Josh, his Twitter handle is @JoshYohe_Trib. I’ll be back for the Blackhawks game on Wednesday.
Be GRATEFUL to each other,