JENKINS TWP. —When Nick Johnson took the ice as a winger on the second line against the Hershey Bears last Sunday, it sent him a message.
Johnson, 23, has yet to score his first professional goal, and he is still looking for his first assist in the playoffs.
Still, with only four regular-season games and two playoff games under his belt, Johnson suddenly found himself on the second line in Game 3, taking the spot of Jonathan Filewich, who was banged up.
It was a move that was based on Johnson’s ability to do the little things right.
“He’s done a great job in the offensive zone using his size, strength and speed to separate from guys and make plays,” said head coach Todd Richards. “You can see there’s talent there. There’s ability.”
There’s also an adjustment to make, Richards said.
“He has a lot of his college game in him still,” Richards said. “In college he was able to get away with things, like getting a puck on his stick, taking a couple steps and making a play.
“He doesn’t have that luxury here because guys get on him more quickly.”
That can lead to turnovers – something Richards spoke to Johnson about after Game 1.
Johnson quickly corrected the problem, Richards said, and found himself on the Penguins’ second line.
The jump from college hockey to the pros usually requires most players to go through an adjustment period. Johnson admits he is no different, but he is growing accustomed to the stop-and-go style of playoff hockey.
“The biggest adjustment for me has been being in the right spots and being held responsible on the ice,” Johnson said. “I feel like I’m getting chances, but I just have to relax.”
Scoring a playoff goal would help.
“Once it goes in, I know I’ll have a lot of confidence,” Johnson said. “I know I can make the play, I just can’t rush things.”
That’s a philosophy that Richards agrees with.
“We’re still learning about him, and it’s not easy to come in at the end of the year and there’s a lot you have to learn,” he said. “Then come the playoffs and everything is upgraded.”
A Penguins victory tonight means they advance to the East Division finals to face either the Philadelphia Phantoms or the Albany River Rats.
Despite being up in the series 3-0, the Penguins aren’t taking Hershey for granted. Nor are they looking ahead to Philadelphia or Albany.
“You never want to give a team, especially them, confidence,” Richards said. “Things can change quickly.”
Richards said the play in Game 1 at Hershey was tight, but the Penguins won Games 2 and 3 by sizable margins. The difference, he said, was the home-ice advantage.
“Playing in our own building and getting an early goal. That was a huge lift for us because it got the crowd into it,” Richards said.
Defenseman Alain Nasreddine agreed with Richards and said the lopsided scores in Games 2 and 3 don’t tell the entire story.
“We started Game 2 really strong and it was a tight game going into the third period. In Game 3 they battled and at one point it was 3-1. There’s no such thing as an easy game against these guys,” Nasreddine said.
WBS Penguins at Hershey Bears
When: 7 p.m., today.
Where: Giant Center in Hershey.
Series: Penguins lead 3-0
Last meeting: Penguins 5, Hershey 1 (Sunday).
Scouting the Bears: Can goaltender Frederic Cassivi bounce back after being pulled in Game 2 and not getting the start in Game 3? Keep in mind he’s a veteran who has enjoyed plenty of playoff success in the past.
Keep an eye on: For the Penguins – Forward Tim Brent – He leads the Penguins with three goals and will be a key if the team wants to finish off the Bears. For the Bears – Forward Chris Bourque – Despite losing the first three games, Bourque has played with confidence and he has a scorer’s touch.