Without plagiarizing Charles Dickens in depth, the debut of new Pittsburgh Penguins Mark Jankowski and Mike Matheson was the best of times and worst of times. One player had a far, far better place to go, though it was only one game and the first of 56 games, too.
The amusing stat twist of Wednesday night will be this: With a goal and assist, Penguins center Mark Jankowski has already scored nearly 33% of his 2019-20 total. Such a dropoff last season was the reason the Calgary Flames declined to offer Jankowski a Qualifying Offer, and the reason the Penguins snagged the big center on a one-year, $700,000 minimum salary deal.
Not only did Jankowski, 26, score the first goal of the NHL season, but his line also squashed the competition for much of the game.
“We were hard on pucks on the forecheck and didn’t give them too much in the D-zone,” said Jankowski. “We have to build off that. Overall, as a team, we did a lot of good things (Wednesday)…”
Again, Jankowski’s output on Wednesday equaled nearly 1/3 of last season’s output when he scored seven points (5g, 2a) in 56 games.
By any measure, Jankowski’s performance was a welcome sight, not just for the stat sheet ink but for the complete 200-foot game. The Penguins third line did not allow a shot attempt against them for about 52 minutes.
Call it a win for the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-foot-4, 212-pound center.
“I thought we had a majority of the 5v5 play,” Jankowski said. “Our PK needs to be better, and we’ll do video and work on that, and we know we can be better.”
The Bad: The Penguins penalty killing unit did allow goals on the first two Philadelphia power plays. The PK unit certainly needs a good ratchet to tighten up.
Jankowski was also 0-for-5 on the faceoff dot in the first period. Overall, he was 2-for-7.
The How: Jankowski led his linemates by being a good distributor. His backhand sauce to Brandon Tanev for the Penguins third goal was as good as it gets. The Penguins speed on the third line was able to pressure the Philadelphia Flyers and maintain control or pressure on the puck.
McCann can make plays, as well as score. Jankowski let the outside speed work for him, and it did.
Just one game, a few bobbles or mistakes would not otherwise be a concern for most players. However, the knock-on Mike Matheson has been bad things “snowball.”
When things go wrong, they tend to accumulate around Matheson.
“It’s been his DNA since college,” one hockey pro told PHN this offseason.
Matheson made several good plays on the offensive blue line. He moved well and pushed the pace in several spots. That’s the good part, and that is what head coach Mike Sullivan and assistant coach Todd Reirden will build on. It’s what the elite skating Matheson should build on, too.
“We learn through experiences. Our coaching staff is committed to trying to help Mike through some of these processes,” Sullivan said Wednesday night. “This game is not an easy game. It’s not for the faint of heart. You’ve got to make sure you dust yourself off and get back in the fight.”
Sullivan’s cliche string was both impressive and entirely accurate. For the several good things that Matheson showed, mistakes which wind up in the back of one’s net count for more.
The Bad: Matheson was unfortunately present and accounted for on the first three Philadelphia goals.
The How (it improves): Matheson has also been the unfortunate recipient of four head coaches in his short NHL career. Play this way, no play that way, now this way, and here’s a new team to learn everything new in a nine-day span.
Sullivan didn’t shy away from Matheson’s blunders, such as not defending James Van Riemsdyk’s stick near the net or wandering off the reservation, thus leaving Joel Farabee alone on the doorstep. But Sullivan’s candid admission combined with support and promise is also noteworthy.
The “how” it improves is the Penguins keep calm, allow Matheson to digest the entirely new system, forget the mistakes, and praise the successes.
Coaches can give some players a good swift kick (figuratively speaking) to the rear and get a good response. By all accounts, it doesn’t sound like Matheson is that type. It was a singular game in a difficult circumstance.
Matheson may not last long in Pittsburgh Penguins the top four, at least during the learning curve. Sheltered minutes may be on the menu sooner than later.