Depending on who you ask, Christmas might have come a little early for the fans of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
After less than two years, Penguin head coach Mike Johnston has been relieved of his duties. Also getting the axe was assistant coach Gary Agnew. Mike Sullivan will be assuming the role of head coach for the Penguins. Sullivan comes up from the Penguins’ AHL affiliate from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, where he compiled an 18-5 record in guiding the baby Penguins to first place in their division.
Johnston had the unenviable task of replacing popular coach Dan Bylsma, who was relieved of his duties after the 2013-14 season. Bylsma’s firing came after his repeated failure to recapture the magic of 2009, when the Penguins last won the Stanley Cup.
In his first season with the Penguins, Johnston compiled a 43-27-12 record. After a scorching start, injuries forced the Penguins to level off, and they had to rely on the last day of the regular season to clinch a playoff spot. They were subsequently bounced from the playoffs by the New York Rangers in the first round. The Rangers only needed five games to eliminate Pittsburgh.
Sidney Crosby, usually threatening for the league scoring title, was “limited” to only 84 points in 77 games, easily the lowest point total he has compiled in a full season. Johnston brought in a new system that some critics said severely limited the offensive firepower of the Penguins, as he relied too much on generating offense from the blue line.
Early in the 2015-16 season, the Penguins have crawled out of the gate. While they currently hold a 15-10-3 record, they sit fifth in the Metropolitan Division. Crosby has been non-existent in the scoring race, as he currently sits 83rd in the NHL scoring race. Pittsburgh has looked like anything but a championship threat, and changes needed to be made.
There will be some who will criticize this move. Perhaps Johnston wasn’t given enough time. Perhaps his stars let him down. Indeed, at times, the Penguins looked like a team trying to get their coach fired. But what matters in the NHL are results. Johnston wasn’t producing those results, and as a result, he was let go. In Pittsburgh, with a lineup boasting the likes of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Phil Kessel, and Patric Hornqvist, expectations are high.
Will this turn the Penguins’ season around? Only time will tell. One thing remains certain…in Pittsburgh, winning is the standard. If that standard gets lowered, changes will be made.