ShareThis Page
Pens coach uses rookie event to analyze team’s approach |

Pens coach uses rookie event to analyze team’s approach

| Saturday, September 12, 2015 9:09 p.m
In this file photo, Penguins head coach Mike Johnston stands behind his bench in the first period of a game against the Los Angeles Kings in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014.

LONDON, Ontario — The last time Mike Johnston was in this town for a rookie tournament, he was three months into his tenure as Penguins coach. Now, he’s been on the job 15 months.

For him, familiarity bred pragmatism.

As his second season approaches, Johnston has undertaken a systematic approach to improving on an eighth-place finish in the Eastern Conference and a first-round playoff exit in his first year behind the bench. He made a list of areas he wants his team to improve, and he’s going to unveil it to the players as soon as training camp begins next week.

Some of the items on the list are big-picture concepts.

“I want to get our penalty minutes down,” Johnston said. “That’s important, how we handle situations on the ice. We don’t want to lose our cool. Whether it’s with the refs or the other team, we want to keep our composure.”

Some of the items are tactical.

“We want to see our defense be more active in all areas,” he said. “That’s a technical point. There are subtleties in how they defend. We want to close gaps and do it in a certain way.”

All are designed to make the Penguins a better team, and not marginally better, either.

If the Penguins finish seventh in the conference and lose in the second round of the playoffs, Johnston might not have the luxury of a third season with the team. The standards are relentlessly high.

“I don’t know if I felt last year coming into Pittsburgh that I had a lot of leeway. My expectations coming into Pittsburgh are that we want to have a shot at the Cup,” Johnston said. “That’s the way it should be. Our fans expect that. Our players expect that. Our coaching staff expects that. Different things are going to play out during the season, but we have the personnel, we have the ability to have a shot at the Cup. That’s what we want.”

Johnston’s pragmatism extends to the way he watches the team’s prospects in London.

He’s not looking at their overall games. That’s for scouts. He’s not watching to see how well they understand his system. Some only have had a few practices to begin to learn it.

He’s looking for specific raw skills possessed by players who can thrive in the style of game he prefers.

“Mobile defense who can make a first pass,” Johnston said. “Forwards that have some intelligence, some puck control, good puck decisions.”

Notes: Penguins rookies improved to 2-0 in the tournament with a 4-1 win over Ottawa. Jaden Lindo, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Matia Marcantuoni and Mickael Beauregard scored.

Miles Liberati, a tryout defenseman from Cheswick, was in the lineup. The Penguins close out the tournament with a game against Toronto’s rookies at 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

• Tristan Jarry made 34 saves, carrying a shutout bid until Ottawa’s Matt Puempel scored on the power play with 42.2 seconds left. Jarry, 20, has had some missteps since emerging as one of the top goalies in junior hockey two years ago, so a strong performance could give him a boost as he begins his first pro season. “You’re eager to get out there and play and see what you can do after a long summer,” Jarry said.

• Dea and second-round draft pick Daniel Sprong played on the same line for the second straight game. They’ve known each other since they were 10, growing up in the Montreal area. “We had two good games. He’s playing well. Good kid, lot of speed, good ability,” Dea said.

Jonathan Bombulie is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.