Penguins

Kovacevic: Simple science of keeping puck

Let's get this much clear: There's nothing pioneering about prioritizing puck possession in hockey.

It's never come with some big eureka moment.

It's never required any meaningful statistical measure.

It's never featured a single coach or franchise at the forefront.

I brought this up with Mike Johnston, the Penguins' new coach but also a 57-year-old lifer in the profession, Saturday afternoon at Consol Energy Center, shortly after he put his players through drill upon drill upon drill emphasizing keeping the puck. They did it on defense. They did it breaking up ice. They did it cycling. Every emphasis, including verbal, was on that singular point.

And at the same time, Johnston had to laugh a bit when I asked if he's breaking some new ground.

"Yeah, if you go back and talk to Scotty Bowman about his earlier days of coaching, and the puck possession of those Canadiens, if you had a clock on them, was probably, was very high," Johnston said in referring, of course, to the Montreal dynasty of the 1970s. "And when talking about regroups, about swinging back to make sure you kept the puck when, then you're talking about those old Soviet teams. Even the other night, when we're playing in Detroit, they were the hardest team we've faced so far in the neutral zone, with the speed and puck possession they had."

There are those examples off the top of his head and countless others, even predating Bowman's Canadiens. The concept of keeping the puck, really, is more common sense than anything else.

Or at least it should be.

I spent the day discussing this topic with the several of the Penguins' coaches and players, team leaders and rookies alike, to get their feel for where Johnston is taking the team strategically, and here's a rink-length breakdown:

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