With 15 wins in their first 28 games this season and four teams ahead of them in the Metropolitan Division, the Pittsburgh Penguins relieved Mike Johnston of his coaching duties Saturday.
The next chapter in Penguins history gets underway Monday when Pittsburgh hosts the Washington Capitals at Consol Energy Center (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, SNE, SNO, SNP, CSN-DC, ROOT). Mike Sullivan, who was promoted from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League, will make his debut as Penguins coach. He will use the same line combinations from Pittsburgh's previous game (a 3-2 shootout loss against the Los Angeles Kings on Friday), but Sullivan is open to shaking things up as the week progresses.
Sullivan's first task, though, is to get the Penguins to the level general manager Jim Rutherford obviously believes they're capable of playing.
"For me, I've always had an honest, straight-forward approach," Sullivan said. "I hope I can inspire these guys to play a certain way. My hope is that we can work together to try to create a consistent game plan. For me, the only way I know how to do it is through an honest and candid assessment of where we're at and where we can go. I hope that resonates with the players."
Here are other games that should garner plenty of attention:
Tuesday, Dec. 15: Edmonton Oilers at New York Rangers (7 p.m. ET; SNW, MSG) -- It's the second game in under a week between these teams; the Oilers defeated the Rangers 7-5 at Rexall Place on Friday. Does former Rangers goalie Cam Talbot start for Edmonton (which has won five in a row) at Madison Square Garden?
Tuesday, Dec. 15: Colorado Avalanche at Chicago Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CSN-CH) -- Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, who made a season-high 42 saves Sunday, will be the latest to attempt to end Patrick Kane's 26-game point streak. Varlamov has allowed seven goals over his past five games (.958 save percentage). Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford has back-to-back shutouts.
Thursday, Dec. 17: Los Angeles Kings at Montreal Canadiens (7:30 p.m. ET; FS-W; RDS, CITYM) -- The top team in the Pacific Division visits the top team in the Atlantic. Los Angeles is 7-0-2 in its past nine games and has built a 10-point lead atop the Pacific. Montreal ended a four-game losing streak with a 3-1 win against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.
Friday, Dec. 18: Vancouver Canucks at Detroit Red Wings (7:30 p.m. ET; SN, FS-D+) -- Vancouver opened a six-game road trip Sunday with a 4-0 loss at Chicago. The Red Wings, who are one of four Eastern Conference teams the Canucks face on the trip, are doing their part to assure themselves of a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a 25th consecutive season; Detroit has a 13-game point streak (8-0-5). The Red Wings' next home win will be No. 800 at Joe Louis Arena.
Saturday, Dec. 19: Montreal Canadiens at Dallas Stars (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, TVA Sports, CITY, FS-SW+) -- The first-place Stars wrap up a three-game homestand against the Canadiens in a game that features the only two teams who have scored 100 goals this season.
Sunday, Dec. 20: Washington Capitals at New York Rangers (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, TVA Sports, CSN-DC, MSG) -- The Metropolitan Division standings have changed since New York's 5-2 win against Washington on Nov. 3; the Capitals have since moved into first place and are 8-1-1 in their past 10 games. Evgeny Kuznetsov leads Washington with 28 points (nine goals, 19 assists) in 28 games and Braden Holtby has allowed two or fewer goals in his past six starts.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames -- The speedy forward is doing everything he can to get the Flames back in the playoff mix; he had seven goals (including two game-winners), 10 points and a plus-8 rating to help Calgary sweep a five-game homestand.
Thomas Greiss, New York Islanders -- An under-the-radar signing on July 1, Greiss got his first shutout with the Islanders on Sunday, a 4-0 win against the New Jersey Devils. Greiss, who has never played more than 25 games in a season, has already made 14 starts for New York. He is 9-3-2 with a 2.03 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage.
Teddy Purcell, Edmonton Oilers -- Purcell is making the most of an opportunity to skate with skilled forwards Taylor Hall and Leon Draisaitl. Purcell, who scored 24 goals for Tampa Bay in 2011-12, has two goals and four assists during a three-game point streak.
Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks -- With Logan Couture injured and Joe Thornton struggling to produce, Hertl was promoted to the Sharks' top line between Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau. Hertl has no goals and two assists in the past six games.
"I am a big guy, and I must use my weight," Hertl told CSN Bay Area. "Every D-man will say it's tough if I use my [rear end] and just [control] the puck. If I'm on [the] puck, I feel great."
Mike Hoffman, Ottawa Senators -- Hoffman, who is the Senators' third-leading scorer with 15 goals and 12 assists in 26 games, was taken off their top line during a 4-2 win at the Florida Panthers last Tuesday. Coach Dave Cameron opted to place defenseman Mark Borowiecki with Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan with hopes of making the line more stable defensively.
"(Cameron said) he didn't like the way our line was playing. [He felt they] were too risky, too offensive and something needed to be changed but those were the reasons," Hoffman told the Ottawa Sun. "He's got a job just like we have a job in here. The game is on the line and you want to be playing on your line and helping the team out as much as you can. At the same time, it's his responsibility, he dictates who goes and who plays."
Hoffman was skating with Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Alex Chiasson when he scored what proved to be the game-winning goal in Florida with 5:37 remaining.
Valeri Nichushkin, Dallas Stars -- The 20-year-old right wing has flourished since being moved to the Stars' top line; he has two goals and five assists in five games with world-class forwards Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.
"He's in a really good spot right now mentally and physically," Stars coach Lindy Ruff told the Dallas Morning News. "The way he's skating and physically dominating the games … there was a period of time in his first year when he was showing signs of that, but right now he's ahead of that."
Goalie Jonathan Bernier allowed five goals on 26 shots for Toronto of the American Hockey League on Sunday after three consecutive shutouts. Will he be recalled by the Toronto Maple Leafs this week? Bernier was 0-8-1 with a 3.28 goals-against average and a .888 save percentage with the Maple Leafs before being demoted. … Nashville Predators defensemen Shea Weber and Roman Josi have combined for 17 points this month. … Islanders captain John Tavares went four games without a point before scoring a goal on Sunday. New York was 3-0-1 over that stretch and is 8-0-2 in its past 10 games. "I've had some games where it's been good and some where I have to be a lot better," Tavares said. "You get your opportunities, you've got to put them in. I probably could have had a couple more [Sunday]. Physically I've felt pretty good these last two games, and that's made a big difference."