Doesn’t sound like Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford is ready to give his head coach, Mike Johnston, a vote of confidence — but it’s not because he doesn’t like Johnston.
Rutherford just doesn’t like votes of confidence.
“I’ve heard that term because I follow sports, but I don’t like it. You can say you give a guy a vote of confidence, but it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans,” Rutherford said, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “[Johnston’s] done a good job under difficult circumstances and still has gotten us to 96 points and given us a chance to get into the playoffs here in the last couple of games.”
Johnston’s job security has been a hot topic of late as the Penguins, 3-8-2 in their last 13, trend towards a once-unthinkable collapse; they were 10 points clear of the final wild card spot at the beginning of March, neck-and-neck with the Rangers and Isles for top spot in the Metropolitan Division.
But things, they have changed.
Injuries and poor health have besieged the team, especially on defense, which is perhaps why Rutherford wasn’t prepared to throw Johnston under the bus. The first-time NHL head coach had the Pens playing some very impressive hockey early — Pittsburgh had just nine regulation losses over the first three months of the season — and, to be fair, there aren’t many clubs that could withstand 333 man-games lost (fifth-most in the NHL) and the types of ailments Pittsburgh suffered: Olli Maata had cancer, Pascal Dupuis had blood clots and five different players were infected with the mumps.
Still, one has to wonder if Johnston will be turfed should the Penguins miss the dance, simply because he and the club would fall remarkably short of their goals. He arrived on the job talking like the postseason was a given; his aim was to win another championship.
“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,” he said upon getting hired. “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.
“This is a group that wants to win. They’ve won the Stanley Cup, and I believe they want to do it again.”