* All metrics shown below are 5v5 score-adjusted*
Mike Johnston struggled to keep the Penguins above water in 2015-2016. Johnston was handed a deficient defensive corps and radically changed his system to shield the defense that he clearly had no confidence in. It appeared that Johnston would rather keep the game close instead of taking risks and giving the top talent a chance to make a difference. This resulted in a drop in shot generation and suppression.
Note that the team generated approximately the same amount of scoring chances, but began leaking shots and scoring changes against at an untenable rate.
Johnston’s change in strategy is even more pronounced when you review the data historically.
Rutherford eventually made some changes to try to steer the ship away from the iceberg. Out goes Johnston. In comes Sullivan. Adam Gretz noted that Rutherford also made significant roster moves:
Mike Sullivan has been great for the Penguins, but the coach isn't the only thing that's changed since early Dec. pic.twitter.com/pA4pDoHhTZ
— Adam Gretz (@AGretz) January 30, 2016
Replacing Rob Scuderi with Trevor Daley has worked out so far. Pascal Dupuis, whose career ended unfortunately, was under-performing in his role. Carl Hagelin, traded for Perron and Clendening, looks capable of filling in the role of a realistically 3rd line player that is fast enough to keep up with Crosby or Malkin. Rust, Sheary, and Wilson will hopefully solidify the 3rd and 4th lines, while Pouliot could make a push into the top-4.
Head coach Mike Sullivan has unleashed the hounds. Judging by the style of play, he’s more comfortable .
Recent unblocked shot rates. pic.twitter.com/nd1sEgIxFJ
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) December 14, 2015
Examining how the change in coaching staff has impacted the Penguins’ metrics:
Between Sullivan and the roster changes, the Penguins have markedly improved all of their shot metrics. I’m dubious that the dip in shooting % can be strongly explained by any change in strategy or personnel. The most straightforward explanation for the dip in save % is Marc-Andre Fleury’s injury and Jeff Zatkoff’s subsequent rise in playing time.
Mike Sullivan has the team headed in the right direction. Whether they have enough time to make up lost ground is a different question.