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Penguins' change no surprise to Sharks' Martin

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL -- Just about everyone has an opinion on the recent coaching change and the season-long struggles of the Pittsburgh Penguins, but perhaps no one is as qualified to speak about them as San Jose Sharks defenseman Paul Martin.

Martin spent five seasons with the Penguins before signing with the Sharks as an unrestricted free agent last summer, and Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford's decision to replace coach Mike Johnston with Mike Sullivan on Saturday came as little surprise to the veteran defenseman.

"I talked to a couple of guys and in a little way they kind of expected some kind of change," Martin said prior to the Sharks game against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday. "I mean, there are expectations with some of the guys that they have; I'm sure they feel they've underachieved and they wanted to make some changes."

Martin said those expectations in Pittsburgh can be a heavy burden for the players, particularly since the Penguins have not won the Stanley Cup since 2009. With centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the primes of their careers, the pressure to capitalize on that in Pittsburgh can be great.

"I've seen it both ways," Martin said. "When you have those two guys, [they're] two of the best players in hockey, so the goal is to win a Cup. And I've also seen it's about the cast, that you have to have better people surround them to help them achieve that goal. I think it's a lot of pressure either way.

"[Crosby and Malkin] feel it and they put it on themselves. They want to win as much as anyone. It's a tough dynamic to win games with that. You have to win a Cup or else it's a failure in Pittsburgh. So it's hard to manage those expectations, or find a reason [for not winning]."

Martin said he admired the way Johnston coached and was sorry to see him leave, but again it came down to producing results when you have two of the top talents in the game on your roster.

"I liked Coach Johnston," Martin said. "He's a good hockey mind; he knows the game, he understands it, he taught it well with his systems and how he wanted us to play. It's a tough job, especially if things aren't going well when you have those types of guys."

The Penguins are 15-11-3 and are fifth in the Metropolitan Division with 33 points, one point behind the New Jersey Devils for the final wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference with a game in hand. They entered play Tuesday 27th in the NHL in goals per game.

Rutherford admitted Saturday that part of the blame for the slow start falls on him for not having enough defensemen on the roster who can move the puck.

Martin was one such defenseman for the Penguins, finishing last season second to Kris Letang in time on ice per game and 11th in points with 20 in 74 games. But it was made clear to Martin early on in the free agency process that the Penguins' focus was elsewhere, namely the trade that brought in right wing Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Martin eventually signed a four-year, $19.4 million contract with the Sharks on July 1.

"We spoke coming up to free agency," Martin said. "I think they were stressing getting a big winger to help out with either [Crosby] or [Malkin]. I think that was their priority, so for them with that coming in, as long as there's no trades it's hard to keep me. There's a lot of things that go into it, everything happens pretty fast."

Martin's Sharks are also off to a slow start, but he says it feels different because of the environment in San Jose and the level of expectations that surround the team. In Pittsburgh, it almost seems as though a lack of success can be suffocating.

"When you live in Pittsburgh you're expected to win the Cup, let alone get in the playoffs. Last year we kind of snuck in at the end," Martin said. "There's been a lot of moves, and now with [Pascal] Dupuis out you lose a character guy in the room and stuff like that. There's been a lot of changes there even since I was there. I don't have an answer or a reason, but here [in San Jose] you just work on your game and improving and having that winning culture. For us, to get in the playoffs is our main goal, at first.

"We still expect to win, but I think in Pittsburgh it's just a different culture, as far as cities. It's pretty similar to a Canadian city in terms of the exposure you get and the media and the fan base, which is different than what we have. It's a big change that way."

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