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Under Pressure: Mike Johnston

Aug 21, 2014, 11:47 AM EDT

Mike Johnston, Jim Rutherford, Rick Tocchet AP

Mike Johnston is 57 years old and has never been a NHL head coach before.

Which makes his first gig a bit of a doozy.

Johnston, who in June was named Dan Bylsma’s successor as the bench boss in Pittsburgh, inherits a team loaded with expectations. Pittsburgh is the NHL’s only team with two former Hart Trophy winners — Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin — and is clearly in Stanley Cup-or-bust mode; to show how serious they were on that front, the Pens conducted a major overhaul this offseason.

— Bylsma and GM Ray Shero fired, replaced by Johnston and Jim Rutherford.

Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik allowed to walk in free agency, Christian Ehrhoff signed.

James Neal traded to Nashville for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.

The Pens also addressed one of the biggest weaknesses from a year ago — depth — by agreeing to terms with the likes of Steve Downie, Thomas Greiss and Blake Comeau. All of the moves, it seemed, were designed to help turnaround the club’s recent lack of postseason success; last year’s second-round exit at the hands of the Rangers marked the fifth straight time Pittsburgh had fallen short of the Cup Final, and the fourth time in five years the Pens failed to advance to the Eastern Conference Final.

As such, Johnston knows what the stakes are for his first season on the job, and he didn’t bother trying to sugar coat it.

“The bottom-line expectation for me is that, from training camp through the first part of the season, everything we do is setting the table for the playoffs,” Johnston said. “The score is relevant but it’s not as relevant as the habits that we are going to have to make us successful in the playoffs.”

The big question for Johnston now is, how will he handle this pressure?

One would think he’ll lean on his assistants for help. Rick Tocchet’s presence will likely loom large, as the longtime NHLer and coach has a wealth of experience and familiarity with players — he was still lacing them up as recently as 2001-02 and actually coached Downie to the most productive season of his NHL career (Downie scored 22 goals and 46 points for Tampa Bay in 2009-10, with Tocchet behind the bench.)

Johnston will also rely on some of his past experiences. He was an assistant for the Canadian Olympic team at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano — a pressure-cooker situation if ever there was one — and has worked on a pair of NHL benches in Vancouver and Los Angeles.

He’ll also look to block out external pressure by keeping intently focused on the goal at hand. And give Johnston credit — he really knows what this Pittsburgh job is all about:

Winning it all.

“This group wants to win,” he said. “They’ve won the Stanley Cup [in 2009], and I believe they want to do it again.”

  1. succulentnipples - Aug 21, 2014 at 11:56 AM

    Johnathon Football.

  2. succulentnipples - Aug 21, 2014 at 11:56 AM

    The Johnathon Football.

  3. blynasty - Aug 21, 2014 at 12:03 PM



    Spaling moves to the 3rd line when Kapanen proves that he is ready for the NHL.

    • mrdonkeydick - Aug 21, 2014 at 12:13 PM

      if your looking for a cup this line up will not do.

  4. erbaker67 - Aug 21, 2014 at 12:07 PM

    I hope that Scuderi turns it around, if not, I hope Bortuzzo takes his place.

  5. penguins87and71 - Aug 21, 2014 at 12:18 PM

    How is Mike Johnston already under pressure?!? He hasn’t even coached a game in the NHL! The guy who should be under pressure is Sidney Crosby. In my opinion Johnston should get a pass this year. I think this will be more of a transitional year for the Penguins, they will still make the Playoffs, but they won’t be as dominant in the regular season. I just don’t see where the goals are going to come from, either from the top two lines. They are going to have to win games 2-1, or 3-2.

  6. ravanator - Aug 21, 2014 at 12:34 PM

    Mike Johnston is a pethetic choice for head coach. Of course the Penguins would hire someone that was suspened in the past for cheating as a coach. The yinzers do love cheaters, they celebrate everday the 70’s and the gift of steroids. Cheers!


  7. penguins87and71 - Aug 21, 2014 at 12:52 PM

    Penguins 3 Caps 0
    Steelers 6 Ravens 2
    Pirates 5 Orioles 3
    That’s 14 championships for Pittsburgh sports teams, and 5 championships for Washinghton/Baltimore championships. Pittsburgh > Baltimore/Washinghton. You have no room to talk. Nice try though.

    • theageofquarrel - Aug 21, 2014 at 1:22 PM

      The Skins have 3 Superbowls

      • runhigh24 - Aug 21, 2014 at 1:29 PM

        You can toss in another Super Bowl from the old Baltimore Colts as well.

    • lowenni - Aug 21, 2014 at 1:40 PM

      While football and baseball hardly have any relevance to this, you did forget the Skins’ 3 superbowls. That being said, as a Caps fan I think Caps fans and Pens fans both are hardly in any places to make fun of eachother’s teams–both have been tremendously dissapointing after a few years of vying for supremacy with each other. Yes, you guys won the Cup, but right now both teams hardly have place to argue with each other, and this year could be close between the two teams. That’s when we can start up the debates again…

    • bmoreredfury311 - Aug 21, 2014 at 1:45 PM

      Technically Baltimore is tied. 4 from the Baltimore colts and 2 from the ravens. Yes, your right about the Caps unfortunately. And the O’s but maybe not for long.

      • bmoreredfury311 - Aug 21, 2014 at 2:18 PM

        Technically I think im wrong. Sorry Wikipedia had me thinking championship was the same as super bowls. But still as lowenni said both fan bases really don’t have the room to talk. The day and age we live in its the what have you done for me lately mentality

  8. jaybaileys - Aug 21, 2014 at 1:35 PM

    As long as he never says “get to our game” he will be fine. I agree, Crosby is under way more pressure than the rookie coach. If you are supposed to be the best player of your era you score more than 1 or 2 goals in 2 rounds of the playoffs. You also don’t do squat as your team is blowing a 3-1 lead. I hope the kid has it in him, but its gut check time, enough regular season dominance. It’s time to put up in the playoffs, no more excuses. I don’t even care that they don’t have the wingers. A very wise 2 foot 1000 year old green guy once said “Do or do not, there is no try”. Put that on your locker room t-shirts.

  9. penguins87and71 - Aug 21, 2014 at 5:33 PM

    Well his not a Redskins fan so I decided not to count that, but yeah the Skins have won 3.

  10. jacketsfan7 - Aug 21, 2014 at 6:18 PM

    The one who will determine pittsburgh a cup fate is not mike Johnston…it’s MAF
    I know hell have a great season and take the pens to the playoffs, however when they get there…it’s all on him, if he chokes again he’s done, he needs to take this team to the 3rd round of the playoffs in order to keep his job in Pittsburgh, Zatkoff looks good, Hartzell looks like he can be backup
    It’s all on fleury here

  11. stixzidinia - Aug 22, 2014 at 12:14 AM

    The guy will be fine. Just pick up his Hockey Plays & Strategies book. He’s got the right personality and will coach to the strengths and weaknesses of the team as wel as those of the opponent…….rather than making the opposition “play our game” every night.

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