Getting to Know Newest Penguins Head Coach Mike Sullivan

Saturday, December 12, 2015
Mike Sullivan has been named the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Pittsburgh Penguins this afternoon fired their head coach Mike Johnston just 28 games into the 2015-16 season after a 15-10-3 start with a plethora of star players in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury among others.

“I felt it was time for a coaching change because our team has underachieved,” Penguins' GM Jim Rutherford said in the Penguins press release. “Our expectations are much higher with this group of players."

Replacing him will be none other than the guy who was the head man in his first season as bench boss of the Penguins' AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in Mike Sullivan.

There are now five current NHL head coaches who have come through the W-B/Scranton Penguins including Sullivan - John Hynes (New Jersey), Dan Bylsma (Buffalo), Mike Yeo (Minnesota) and Michel Therrien (Montreal).

EDIT: Jay Leach has been named interim head coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins starting with tonight's game against the Albany Devils. Penguins Player Development coach Mark Recchi will join Leach behind the AHL Pens' bench.

Under Sullivan, the AHL Penguins were off to one of their best starts in franchise history. They currently sit atop the Atlantic Division and also own the highest winning percentage in the league entering Saturday's games.

While some of the credit to the team's 18-5-0 record is due to just the sheer depth of the AHL Pens' roster - Bryan Rust, who spent time in Pittsburgh this season was on the WBS 4th line - Sullivan's ability as a coach to recognize his players' strengths and put them into positions where they can succeed is a large part of the reason why the team is off to such a strong start and why Sullivan is now an NHL head coach.

As far as Sullivan's systems are concerned, the WBS Pens under the direction of Sullivan were aggressive in all three zones - a good fore-checking team who also pressured the puck in neutral zone and defensive zone. The AHL Pens' power play ranks 8th in the AHL, clicking at a 19.6 percent while the penalty kill also ranks 8th in the league with an 85.9% rate of success.

It will certainly be interesting to see how Sullivan handles coaching veteran NHL players and talented stars like Crosby, Malkin and the like. I think his hiring is a good sign for younger players on the roster like Daniel Sprong, who was basically in the doghouse logging six minutes a night on the parent club's fourth line. 

Having talked with Sullivan on basically a once a week basis this season, he loves talking hockey. I've had several 10-15 minute plus interviews with him talking about his players, the systems and his plan of putting his players in positions to succeed by recognizing his players' strengths and playing to those strengths while also improving on their deficiencies on the ice to round out their respective games and get them ready for the NHL.

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