TONIGHT = BIG CHANCE FOR JOHNSON

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.

Mark Madden

Mark Madden

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