Mike Johnston’s time is up with the Pittsburgh Penguins as the team announced on Saturday that they’ve fired the head coach and assistant Gary Agnew. Mike Sullivan, who had been coaching the team’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre, takes over full-time duties.
“I felt it was time for a coaching change because our team has underachieved,” GM Jim Rutherford said. “Our expectations are much higher with this group of players.
“Mike Sullivan has been a head coach and an assistant coach in the NHL and we’ve been very fortunate to have him with our AHL club this season. He’s done an outstanding job in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and he’s ready to step in.”
Rick Tocchet will remain as an assistant, and Jacques Martin, who has been in the role of “special assistant to the head coach,” will join Sullivan’s staff.
Johnston was 58-37-15 with the Penguins since being hired in June 2014. In his first year, the team barely squeaked into the playoffs before being eliminated by the New York Rangers in five games.
Through 29 games this season, the Penguins have earned 33 points, good enough for fifth in the Metropolitan Division — not good enough to be comfortably in a playoff spot like many expected. Johnston’s seat continued to get warmer as the team’s struggles continued with no turnaround in sight.
Underachievement, as Rutherford noted, is a big part in why Johnston was shown the door. It’s also a word the GM used numerous times earlier this week after publicly calling out his head coach. Pittsburgh owns the fourth-worst offense in NHL, averaging 2.36 goals per game; not something you’d expect with a team featuring Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang.
Their possession numbers also have taken a dip this season, dropping from a 53.1-percent Fenwick in 2014-15 to 48.5-percent this year, per War on Ice. Johnston preached a puck possession gameplan when he was hired. (The power play has also dropped from 19.3-percent to 15.6-percent, which was an area of Agnew's.)
Sullivan was named head coach of the Penguins' AHL squad in June and through 23 games he guided them to a division-best 18-5-0 record. And in two areas the NHL side could use help with, the Baby Pens are third in both scoring (3.7 goals per game) and defense (2.13 goals allowed per game).
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