Mark Madden

Mark Madden

The Super Genius of Pittsburgh Sports.Full Bio



It looks like defenseman Jack Johnson will be in the Penguins’ lineup tonight for the opener against Buffalo at PPG Paints Arena.

Johnson is not a fan favorite, nor a darling of the advanced stats set. The five-year, $16.25-million contract he signed on July 1, 2018 looks like a burden.

But Johnson played OK after Dec. 1 of last season, which is approximately when he got switched from the right side to his preferred left side.

I am not outraged by Johnson’s apparent inclusion in tonight’s lineup.

A bit confused, maybe.

All signs at training camp pointed to Johnson being the seventh defenseman and the pairs being Kris Letang-Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz-Marcus Pettersson, and Erik Gudbranson-Juuso Riikola. That was predicated by the rapid development of Pettersson into a capable top-four defenseman.

But if Johnson takes Riikola's place, Johnson can’t partner with Gudbranson. They would have inadequate mobility as a duo.

So Johnson has to play with Schultz. That puts Pettersson in the bottom pair with Gudbranson, and likely limits Pettersson's minutes. That noted, the “Twin Towers” defense tandem of Gudbranson (6-foot-4) and Pettersson (6-3) was very effective last season.

Given the team’s high regard for Pettersson and the potential partnership with Schultz, using Johnson seems odd.

It’s not what I would do. Letang-Dumoulin and Schultz-Pettersson are two excellent pairs. Now that’s diluted.

It’s a big opportunity for Johnson. If he wants to keep his place in the lineup, he’d better put together some convincing performances starting tonight.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Arizona Coyotes

Courtesy of Getty Images.

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