The Columbus Blue Jackets were the first team to fire their head coach this season, but a change hasn't reversed the team's fortunes much as the Jackets are last in the Metropolitan Division.
The Pittsburgh Penguins (15-11-3) certainly had higher aspirations this season than Columbus did, and that's why the team fired Coach Mike Johnston over the weekend and replaced him with Mike Sullivan, a head coach of the Boston Bruins from 2003-06. He had been serving as coach of the Penguins' AHL affiliate. In just over one full season since replacing Dan Bylsma during the 2014 offseason, Johnston led Pittsburgh to a 58-37-15 record.
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There's no question that Pittsburgh has been underachieving -- no team with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel should rank 27th in scoring and 28th on the power play as the Pens do. Under Sullivan, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton had 85 goals, the third-highest total in the AHL this season. Those Penguins were 18-5-0-0, the best winning percentage (.783) in the 30-team league. Sullivan is the fifth member of a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coaching staff to be coaching in the NHL, joining Bylsma (Buffalo), Mike Yeo (Minnesota), Michel Therrien (Montreal) and John Hynes (New Jersey).
Pittsburgh lost its debut under Sullivan on Monday, 4-1 at home to Washington despite putting 45 shots on net. There's talk that GM Jim Rutherford's next big move will be to trade for a defenseman. He made a moderately small move Monday in dealing Rob Scuderi, who was a healthy scratch vs. the Capitals, to Chicago for fellow defenseman Trevor Daley. The Blackhawks saved some $1 million in cap room because the Penguins are retaining one third of Scuderi's salary. Neither side is likely done dealing yet.
The Penguins are +2200 at Bovada to win the Stanley Cup.
This Week's Games To Watch
Colorado at Chicago, Tuesday: The Hawks are -180 favorites as Patrick Kane looks to extend his consecutive games streak with at least one point to 27. Kane's streak of 26 in a row is the longest of any active NHL player has had. It's the longest streak in the league since Mats Sundin had a 30-game streak for the Quebec Nordiques in 1992-93. Kane leads the NHL with 46 points in 31 games, and he's on a pace to register 121 points. His career best is 88 points. Kane has either had the goal or assists on 54 percent of Chicago's goals this season. Kane wasn't even the NHL's First Star for last week -- that went to teammate and goaltender Corey Crawford. He posted a 3-0-0 record with a 0.33 goals-against average, a .989 save percentage and two shutouts. Kane and Co. will be going against a hot goalie in Colorado's Semyon Varlamov, assuming he doesn't get the night off. He has won four of his past five with just seven goals allowed total in that span. The Avs and Hawks haven't played this season yet.
Pittsburgh at Boston, Wednesday: Sullivan goes against his former club here. The Bruins have been rather maddening as they are 10-2-2 on the road but only 6-7-2 at home after losing Monday to Edmonton there 3-2 in overtime. The victory halted an eight-game losing streak in Boston for the Oilers, who entered with only a 4-10-1 road record. Somehow this is the first meeting of the season between Boston and Pittsburgh. Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask will be back in there after getting Monday night off. He's 6-0-2 in his past eight starts. The Penguins then host the Bruins on Friday.
Los Angeles at Montreal, Thursday: The Kings make their only visit of the season to Montreal in what could well be a Stanley Cup Finals preview. Los Angeles might be a bit gassed as it's game No. 5 of a six-game road trip that concludes Saturday in Toronto. The Kings have dropped their past two games. This is the final game for Montreal before an eight-game road. Montreal's scoring has taken a downward turn since the injury to forward Brendan Gallagher, who is hoping to return from injury at the Winter Classic. After being the highest-scoring team in the NHL for the months of October and most of November, the team has not scored more than three goals in eight straight contests coinciding with Gallagher's hand injury. He skated Monday for the first time since fracturing two fingers on his left hand Nov. 22.
Tampa Bay at Washington, Friday: The Bolts will remain short-handed this week. Tyler Johnson probably will miss the week after aggravating a previous injury last Thursday. Fellow winger Ondrej Palat also is likely out this week. Palat appeared to hurt the same ankle on Saturday that sidelined him for more than four weeks before he got back in the lineup last Thursday. Rather sadly, this is already the final regular-season meeting between these contenders. The Capitals beat the visiting Lightning 4-2 on Nov. 28. Tampa No. 1 goaltender Ben Bishop got that night off. On Saturday in Tampa, the Capitals won 2-1 as Braden Holtby made 35 saves. He has only one regulation loss in his past 15 games. Holtby is 19-4-1 on the season, with a goals-against average of 1.87 and a save percentage of .933.
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