Mike Johnston, Jim Rutherford, Rick Tocchet

Under Pressure: Mike Johnston


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.”

Goalie injury wave hits Boston, Subban recalled on emergency basis

Malcolm Subban
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The injury bug that’s sweeping NHL creases has hit Boston.

Ahead of Tuesday’s home tilt against the Wild, the Bruins — without the services of Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin — goalie recalled Malcolm Subban from AHL Providence.

It wasn’t immediately clear what happened to Khudobin, who played in Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Montreal. Rask, who hasn’t suited up since Thursday’s win over New Jersey, was absent from practice with no clear word on what his ailment is.

All this points to Subban, 22, potentially making his second career start tomorrow night against Minnesota. The former first-round pick’s had a nightmare start to the year in Providence, going 0-3-1 with a 4.50 GAA and .846 save percentage.

“I don’t know if he’s where he wants to be or where we want him to be,” head coach Kevin Dean said, per the Journal.

As mentioned above, Boston isn’t the only team dealing with goalie injuries at the moment. The L.A. Kings are without Jonathan Quick and Jeff Zatkoff, forcing No. 3 netminder Peter Budaj into the starting role.

The Coyotes have listed injured starter Mike Smith as week-to-week with a lower-body ailment, the Penguins are still without Matt Murray (hand) and Nashville had to play without Pekka Rinne on Saturday night, as he dealt with a bout of food poisioning.

‘Lots of try,’ but Coyotes still winless on tough road trip

New York Rangers' Josh Jooris, right,reacts after scoring past Arizona Coyotes goalie Louis Domingue during the first period of the NHL hockey game, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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Two more games and it’s over.

Two more games and the Arizona Coyotes can go home.

The ‘Yotes lost their fourth straight road game Sunday in New York, falling 3-2 to the Rangers. They play at New Jersey tomorrow and at Philadelphia Thursday. Then, mercifully, the six-game trip will be done.

“We knew this was going to be a tough trip,” head coach Dave Tippett said, per the Arizona Republic. “We were going to find out about our team. Every game we find out a little more. There’s some areas that are improving. There’s some areas that still need lots of work. We got lots of players that are getting good experience right now.”

The Coyotes actually played quite well in New York. The game was tied, 2-2, until Dan Girardi scored early in the third. Arizona ended up outshooting the Rangers, 29-26.

But a 1-4-0 record has the Coyotes in last place in the Pacific Division. It’s an early hole for this young team, with five rookies on the roster, including three teenagers. And even when they finally get home, tough games await against Colorado, San Jose, and Nashville.

“Lots of try in our group. Lots of try,” Tippett said. “But we’re giving up three goals a game now. We gotta find a way to be better defensively.”

Arizona’s next opponent, New Jersey, isn’t the most offensive team in the league. In fact, the Devils rank dead last in scoring, with just eight goals in five games. And the Flyers haven’t been all that great either.

So perhaps the Coyotes can still salvage something from this trip. It’s been a tough one so far, but end it on a high and the flight home will be that much more enjoyable.

Related: The Coyotes are in a tough spot

Isles bring back Steve Bernier on two-way deal

NEWARK, NJ - SEPTEMBER 25:  Steve Bernier #16 of the New York Islanders skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on September 25, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Islanders 4-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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After attending training camp on a PTO, Steve Bernier has signed with the Isles.

On Monday, the club announced Bernier had agreed to a one-year, two-way deal, which gives him a second go-round with the club. Last year the veteran forward caught on with the club and proceeded to score six points in 24 regular-season games, and appear in six playoff contests.

A former first-round pick, Bernier’s deal comes with the Isles dealing with a few injuries up front — Shane Prince is currently week-to-week with a lower-body injury, and Mikhail Grabovski is out indefinitely with post-concussion symptoms.

The Bernier deal could also give the Isles flexibility with their two 19-year-old rookies, Anthony Beauvillier and Mathew Barzal, as both are eligible to be returned to junior (and the Isles would prevent “burning” a year on their entry-level deals if they do it before the nine-game threshold.)

That said, Beauvillier is off to a terrific start, with five points through five games. Barzal has been less effective, dressing just once.



With three straight wins, the Oilers have ‘responded well’ to the Buffalo debacle

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23: Oscar Klefbom #77 of the Edmonton Oilers congratules Cam Talbot #33 on his shutout against the Winnipeg Jets during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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The Edmonton Oilers improved to 5-1-0 with Sunday’s outdoor shutout of the Jets. They’ve now won three straight since getting embarrassed, 6-2, at home by the Sabres, leaving head coach Todd McLellan quite satisfied with the response he’s seen from his group.

“I thought we started the season sloppily and (still) won games,” said McLellan. “We gave up a lot of opportunities and chances. We were very sleepy and casual against Buffalo, and we went after the group pretty hard. But after that, we responded well, and we played three pretty good teams over the last little bit and played the game a lot better.”

Since the debacle versus Buffalo, the Oilers have beaten the Hurricanes, Blues and Jets, all in regulation. Goalie Cam Talbot has been excellent, improving his save percentage on the season to .919. Over the past three games, it’s been .970.

“I think it started after that Buffalo game that none of us were happy with obviously, so we knew we had to address some things after that,” said Talbot. “We came out Tuesday hard against a tough Carolina team, got a 3-0 lead and kind of let them back in the game there. We talked about it again after that game that we’re going to have to tighten up when we do have these leads, and Thursday was a big win against St. Louis going 1-1 into the third, getting a lead and then holding onto it. And then tonight we took it to another level (with a 3-0 win).”

There are still concerns, to be sure. At five-on-five, the Oilers rank 23rd in Corsi, per Natural Stat Trick, and that’s often a better predictor of success than a team’s record. Overall this season, the Oilers have surrendered more shots (199) than they’ve registered themselves (173).

So while happy, McLellan was careful not to spread the praise too lavishly.

“Do we make mistakes? Of course we do, and when we do, we seem to have a goaltender that makes some pretty good saves, which is nice to have,” he said. “But we’re a growth team. I wouldn’t consider us a championship team or anything like that right now. We’re still a growth team. We’re learning how to do things.”