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Takeaway from Rutherford's Coaching Change Decision

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford notified Mike Johnston and Gary Agnew that they were relieved of their duties on Saturday morning. WBS head coach Mike Sullivan will take over as head coach and Jacques Martin moves to the bench as an assistant coach alongside Rick Tocchet.


Rutherford spoke with the media in the afternoon. Here are the biggest takeaways from Rutherford’s media availability…

On making the coaching change:
I felt with where we are right now and how we’ve played over the first part of the season that this team has more to give. We have some areas that we have to be a lot better with. We have to have more will to win. Our power play has to be better. Over the last couple of games I saw a team that did have more fight in their game and more will to win, but I look at this snapshot over the first 27 games and felt that we’ve underachieved.

On the process of the making the change:
The process started after our weekend with Columbus and New Jersey. I really saw poor efforts. Losing a game is one thing. We’re going to go back and forth with the parity in the league with winning and losing games. But it’s about the night’s work that we put in trying to win that game. That weekend to me was a real low point. That’s when I started thinking about it. I addressed the team. I think we did better that following week, but it was still inconsistent, a little bit up and down. You saw signs of what the team could do; then you saw signs of a team that didn’t look like they had the will to win. Over that period of time is when I really zeroed in on whether we had to make a change.

On hiring Mike Sullivan as the new head coach:
I believe he is the guy that can come in and take control, make some guys more accountable when we’re not performing at the level that we think we should be.

On Sullivan’s style:
(Sullivan) reminds me of a coach that I had a lot of success with, Peter Laviolette.

On re-arranging the staff:
One, I wanted to keep (Martin and Tick Tocchet) because they know what’s gone on here. In Mike Sullivan’s case I wanted somebody new to come in that the players won’t totally know. He can come in and mold what we’re doing going forward, and really take control of the situation and what needs to be dealt with. It would be harder for those guys that were already here and the players know them in a certain way. They don’t totally know Mike Sullivan, but they’ll get to know him.

On the power play:
I think it’s fair to say we win three more games (with a better power play), that puts us at the top of our division. … Going back to the start of last year it worked better than anybody would have expected, but not at a pace you could keep up with. It was all new. Everybody bought in. Everything went to the net and a lot of times it went in the net. As time went on we got away from that. We have a lot of highly skilled players on the power play that can move the puck around. It looks nice, but moving the puck around doesn’t help score goals. … We got caught in between (what the players wanted to do and what the coaches wanted to do). Here’s what one group was saying and here’s what the other group was saying and what really makes it work. Now we have to get back to doing it the way that it works, getting pucks to the net, getting people in front of the net. Our power play should be a lot better, which will win more games for us.

On the offense’s failure to produce:
In fairness to (Johnston) part of this falls on me because I didn’t get the defensemen that were necessary to have more movement from the backend. More puck movement from the backend generates more scoring opportunities.

On the state of the team:
I don’t think we have a huge issue to fix. We’re really close to getting to where we need to get to. I’d like to add another player or two, hopefully we can so we can take a good run in the playoffs. This isn’t blowing something wide apart that’s broken. There are some good things that Mike Johnston did and some things Mike Sullivan is going to have to fix and do better. … We’re not far from the top of the division, but we’re not far from the bottom either. That’s where I had to weight this out and what’s the right time to do it. It’s bothered me, but I felt it was necessary.

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