Penguins prediction rewind: Change of scenery didn’t provide boost to Jack Johnson
Last summer, beat writer Jonathan Bombulie made a series of predictions leading up to the start of the 2018-19 season. Some were OK. Some were hilariously off the mark. In this series, Bombulie will explain what he was thinking and where his logic went off course.
Where will Jack Johnson rank in ice time among the Penguins’ top six defensemen by the end of the season?
A. Bottom two
B. Middle two
C. Top two
B. Middle two
THE RIGHT ANSWER
A. Bottom two
• A statistical look at Johnson’s career was not flattering, but he was due for at least a slight improvement in play by moving from Columbus to Pittsburgh. After all, he’d never made outlet passes to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin before. A change of scenery, a little more favorable zone-start deployment by coach Mike Sullivan and Sergei Gonchar’s influence looked like they would help.
• If Johnson played a little better than his career averages, he’d be in a group with Justin Schultz and Olli Maatta vying for ice time behind Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin. That means he was likely to be third or fourth in total time on ice.
A sample of Facebook comments:
• “Agree with the middle-pairing minutes assessment. He is a talented player that likely just needs to play in a better system with better guidance.”
• “I’m not going to expect the world of the guy. He’s not the savior of this team’s defense. That would be unfair. But, I do expect a better contribution to this team than other D signings such as (Christian) Erhoff or (Matt) Hunwick.”
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED
• The question should have been more specific, because Johnson finished anywhere between third and fifth in ice time among Penguins defensemen depending on the way the stat is measured. In overall minutes, he was third. In minutes per game, he was fourth. In five-on-five minutes per game, he was fifth. Five-on-five minutes per game best reflects the spirit of the prediction, so that’s the one we’ll go with.
• An interesting note: Before the trade deadline, Johnson was third on the team in average five-on-five ice time per game. After it, he was sixth. That suggests his leash got shorter as the season wore on.
THE FLAWS IN THE LOGIC
• A move to Pittsburgh didn’t bring improvement to Johnson’s game. He pretty much was what he has been his entire NHL career. He has his plusses. For instance, he led the team’s defensemen in hits and blocked shots. He has his minuses. When he was on the ice five on five, the Penguins were outscored, 60-46. When he wasn’t on the ice five on five, the Penguins outscored opponents, 136-90. Coaches notice a stat like that and adjust ice time accordingly.
• If the question had been worded better and specifically took into account durability and special teams, the middle-two prediction would have been wiser. Johnson didn’t miss a game and he was a regular on the penalty kill.
This change-of-scenery thing is hard to figure out. Moving to Pittsburgh was a magic elixir for Erik Gudbranson. It didn’t have anywhere near the same effect for Johnson. Tread lightly when making predictions that expect a change of zip code to make a world of difference.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .