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Penguins fire coach Mike Johnston after slow start; Mike Sullivan takes over as coach

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh 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 was head coach of the Boston Bruins from 2003-06 and was serving as the coach of Pittsburgh's affiliate in the American Hockey League, replaces Johnston.

General manager Jim Rutherford said in a statement the high-profile Penguins, led by former MVPs Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, have underachieved.

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 has been an inability to find the net. The Penguins rank 28th in scoring.

Rutherford brought in Johnston on June 25, 2014, after the Penguins cleaned house by letting general manager Ray Shero and coach Dan Byslma 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 Crosby, Malkin and company to spend plenty of time in the offensive zone.

Following a blistering 16-4 start last season, the Penguins struggled with injuries and sometimes uninspired play. 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 and bringing in veteran forward Eric Fehr while bolstering the bottom six, moves that were expected to take some of the burden off the top lines.

Yet the Penguins failed to develop anything resembling momentum this season. Crosby has just 19 points and is on pace for the worst season of his decade-long career.

Kessel has all of nine goals with more than a quarter of the season gone. Only the play of Malkin — whose 13 goals and 13 assists lead the club — and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury have kept Pittsburgh from a complete collapse.

The Penguins hope Sullivan's arrival gives the team a needed spark. Sullivan went 70-56-15 in two years with the Boston Bruins 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 Chicago Blackhawks.

The previous time Pittsburgh replaced a coach in the middle of the season, Bylsma led the franchise to its third Stanley Cup in 2009.

Will Graves, The Associated Press

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