If you Google “Jack Johnson hits,” you’ll find the discography of the American singer, but the Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman who shares the same name has been making hits this season too. Johnson is having a great second half of the season and has been using his 6-foot-1, 227-pound frame to thump opposing players. The American defenseman was ferocious Thursday night in the Penguins 2-1 shootout win against the Nashville Predators.
Johnson had four hits Thursday night including a powerful jam on Nashville sniper Filip Forsberg. Johnson has dished a career-best 218 hits this season which well surpassed his previous best 180 hits in 2013-14 with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He ranks 13th in the NHL.
And Forsberg probably wishes Johnson had one less hit, too.
Thursday night, Johnson added to highlight reel of hits. This season, the 31-year-old defenseman has provided a physical edge to the Penguins which they have lacked for several previous seasons.
On March 12 in Columbus, Johnson dished his 200th hit of the season which made him just the seventh Penguins player to reach 200 hits in a season since the stat became official in 1997-98. He also became the first Penguins player since 2014 (Chris Kunitz) and first team defenseman since 2013 (Brooks Orpik) to accomplish the feat.
In addition to the hits, Johnson has also been a leading shot blocker. He ranks 20th in the NHL. On this shift Thursday night, he did both.
Despite being a lightning rod to criticism for his contract and his play early in the season, Johnson has anchored a key defensive pairing with Justin Schultz. The Johnson-Schultz duo logged top line minutes in the 11-game absence of Kris Letang. Johnson and Schultz also played more than 30 minutes three times.
Now that the Penguins are mending, Johnson and Schultz have transitioned into a noted second line pairing but they haven’t eased up.
The Penguins signed Johnson on July 1 to a five-year, $16.25 million deal shortly after the opening bell rang. Johnson had ties to the Penguins organization even before he arrived, too. He was drafted by the Hurricanes in 2005 when Jim Rutherford was their GM and played with Sidney Crosby at Shattuck-St. Mary’s boarding school in Minnesota. Johnson’s selection was just two picks after the Penguins selected Crosby first overall and the two remained close friends during their respective careers.