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Sullivan Seeks Solution for Pens

Posted by Webster Washington on 12/17/2015 3:32:06 AM

It’s usually the case with a mid-season coaching change, but Mike Sullivan walks into a particularly gloomy situation as the new man heading the Pittsburgh Penguins. The team was 15-11-3 – and slumping - going into Wednesday night’s game at Boston. There are a lot of teams who’d be happy to have 15 victories at this point in the season. But the expectations the Pens had entering the season have demanded much more. Now they are hardly in the conversation when it comes to the Metropolitan Division race, and they’re a hanger-on in the wild card standings.

General Manager Jim Rutherford called on Sullivan Saturday to take over as head coach, replacing Mike Johnston. Rutherford had some reservations. ''I certainly don't think we've got a huge issue to fix here,'' he said.

But the collection of issues leave the former defenseman and Bruins head coach with much work to do. The Penguins are having trouble scoring with a long list of one- and two-goal games in their current 2-6 slump. They ranked 25th in the league in scoring and 27th in power play efficiency before Wednesday’s game. And Sullivan was met with bad news after Monday’s 4-1 loss to Washington; goalkeeper Marc-Andre Fleury, the one dependable cog in the Pens machine, will be out for at least two weeks after suffering a concussion.

As with most conversations start when assessing the Pens’ chances, everything starts with center Sidney Crosby. The perennial all-star who bounced back from concussion issues in 2011-12 to have two straight productive seasons, is in a slump, on pace for all-time lows in goals and points. Teammate Evgeni Malkin, who’s had his own share of injury problems, is the team leader in goals, with 14 after 29 games. All in all, this team is nowhere close to being the team that was considered on the verge of a dynasty after winning the Stanley Cup in 2009.

The last time the Penguins changed coaches at mid-season, new man Dan Bylsma led them to the Cup. But Crosby and Malkin were younger and much less battered. Now Mike Sullivan would have to pull off a near miracle to repeat such a run.

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