PITTSBURGH — The Penguins hired Mike Johnston in the summer of 2014 and tasked him with guiding the star-laden roster back to the NHL's elite.
The marriage lasted all of 18 months.
The Penguins fired Johnston and assistant Gary Agnew on Saturday morning with the high-profile team languishing in the middle of the pack in the crowded Metropolitan Division. Johnston went 58-37-15 during his brief stint with Pittsburgh.
Mike Sullivan, who coached the Bruins from 2003-06 and was coach of the Penguins' affiliate in the American Hockey League, replaces Johnston. Pittsburgh hosts Washington on Monday night.
Pittsburgh fell to Los Angeles in a shootout on Friday to drop to 15-10-3 and in fifth place in the Metropolitan. Perhaps even more troubling than the uneven performances has been an inability to find the net. The Penguins rank 28th in scoring.
"We're not far from the top of the division, but we're not far from the bottom either," general manager Jim Rutherford said Saturday. "It's never a comfortable time. It's bothered me, but I felt it was necessary."
Sullivan went 70-56-15 in two years with Boston and spent most of the past decade bouncing around as an assistant coach. He spent the 2014-15 season as player development coach for the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.
Pittsburgh will retain assistant coach Rick Tocchet, the former Lightning head coach. Jacques Martin, who had been serving as a special assistant to Johnston, will move down to the bench alongside Sullivan.
Sullivan had the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL off to an 18-5-0 start and Rutherford believes Sullivan's newness with the organization can pay immediate dividends.
"I wanted somebody new to come in that the players aren't going to totally know," Rutherford said. "(I think) that he can come in and mold what we're doing going forward."
Rutherford brought in Johnston on June 25, 2014, after the Penguins cleaned house by letting general manager Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma go following a second-round playoff collapse against the New York Rangers.
Johnston promised to bring in a system that focused on puck possession, one designed to allow former MVPs Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to spend plenty of time in the offensive zone. After a 16-4 start in 2014-15, the Penguins struggled with injuries and an ineffective power play that seemed more concerned with setting up pretty goals rather than producing shots or traffic around the net. Pittsburgh exited quietly in the opening round of the playoffs against the Rangers.
Rutherford gave the roster an overhaul over the summer, acquiring forward Phil Kessel to give Malkin a potent running mate and bringing in veteran forward Eric Fehr while bolstering the bottom six.
Game highlights: Ryan O'Reilly's sliding overtime goal helped the host Sabres snap a three-game losing streak with a 2-1 win over the Kings. O'Reilly was tripped as he cut to the slot, but got off an off-balance shot that fooled Kings goaltender Jhonas Enroth at 3:19 of overtime. It was O'Reilly's 100th NHL goal. … Ryan Spooner scored twice and Tuukka Rask stopped 26 shots to lift the host Bruins past the Panthers 3-1 as Boston warned its eighth win in 11 games (8-1-2). … Brian Flynn and Max Pacioretty scored in the first as the host Canadiens stopped a four-game losing streak with a 3-1 victory over the Senators.
First Period—1, Boston, Spooner 6 (Krug), 11:35. Penalties—None.
Second Period—2, Boston, Spooner 7 (Bergeron, Krejci), 8:00 (pp). Penalties—Ekblad, Fla, served by Pirri (tripping, roughing), 6:24; Rinaldo, Bos (roughing), 6:24; Bergeron, Bos (tripping), 15:19.
Third Period—3, Florida, R.Smith 8 (Ekblad, Pirri), 13:56. 4, Boston, Marchand 14 (Bergeron), 18:37 (en). Penalties—Thornton, Fla, double minor (roughing), 6:15; Rinaldo, Bos (roughing, charging), 6:15. Shots on Goal—Florida 6-7-14—27. Boston 10-10-5—25. Power-play opportunities—Florida 0 of 1; Boston 1 of 1. Goalies—Florida, Luongo 10-11-3 (24 shots-22 saves). Boston, Rask 11-7-3 (27-26). A—17,565 (17,565). T—2:31. Referees—Ghislain Hebert, Kelly Sutherland. Linesmen—David Brisebois, Brandon Gawryletz.
First Period—1, N.Y. Islanders, Okposo 7, 15:21. Penalties—Atkinson, Clm (interference), 19:10.
Second Period—2, Columbus, Saad 10 (Jenner, Dubinsky), 5:08. 3, N.Y. Islanders, Nielsen 12 (Okposo, Leddy), 7:10 (pp). Penalties—Bodnarchuk, Clm (boarding), 1:43; Connauton, Clm (holding), 6:05.
Third Period—4, Columbus, Atkinson 9 (Savard, Hartnell), 8:20. Penalties—None.
Overtime—5, N.Y. Islanders, Okposo 8 (Bailey), 2:16. Penalties—None. Shots on Goal—N.Y. Islanders 4-7-7-1—19. Columbus 9-13-6-2—30. Power-play opportunities—N.Y. Islanders 1 of 3; Columbus 0 of 0. Goalies—N.Y. Islanders, Halak 9-4-3 (30 shots-28 saves). Columbus, McElhinney 0-5-2 (19-16). A—12,342 (18,144). T—2:29. Referees—Eric Furlatt, Ian Walsh. Linesmen—Pierre Racicot, Matt MacPherson.
First Period—1, Los Angeles, Gaborik 6 (Kopitar, Pearson), 4:47. 2, Buffalo, McGinn 6 (R.O'Reilly, Ristolainen), 7:19 (pp). Penalties—Nolan, LA (interference), 7:05; Andreoff, LA (tripping), 10:43.
Second Period—None. Penalties—None.
Third Period—None. Penalties—None.
Overtime—3, Buffalo, R.O'Reilly 10 (McCabe), 3:19. Penalties—None. Shots on Goal—Los Angeles 3-7-8-3—21. Buffalo 12-9-8-1—30. Power-play opportunities—Los Angeles 0 of 0; Buffalo 1 of 2. Goalies—Los Angeles, Enroth 3-1-1 (30 shots-28 saves). Buffalo, Ullmark 5-6-2 (21-20). A—18,133 (19,070). T—2:32. Referees—Chris Lee, Dean Morton. Linesmen—Brad Kovachik, Steve Miller.