Sullivan excited to work with Penguins stars Crosby, Malkin

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Mike Sullivan has seen before what Pittsburgh Penguins stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are capable of.

He now gets to work with them first-hand, following Saturday’s announcement that the Penguins fired Mike Johnston and named Sullivan as his replacement at head coach. Now, will Sullivan be able to get better point production out of his top forwards?

Malkin has 26 points in 28 games. Crosby has 19 points in 28 games. The Penguins, a team that also includes sniper Phil Kessel, are 27th in the league in scoring.

“I coached against those guys (Crosby and Malkin) for a lot of years when I was in New York,” said Sullivan, as per the Penguins’ website.

“I have a ton of respect for their ability level, their accomplishments. I know how good they can be, having coached against them for a lot of years. To have the ability to work with them, I can’t tell you how excited I am. I’ve been associated with a lot of great players and I think the challenge is to take a group of great players and become a great team. That’s going to be our challenge.”

Adding to this “challenge” is the fact defenseman Kris Letang, used to play big minutes and in all situations, is out roughly two weeks due to injury, which underlines Pittsburgh’s issues on the blue line and, one could argue, the struggles of their elite point producers.

General manager Jim Rutherford admitted earlier in the day that he didn’t get the proper defensemen for Johnston to work with.

Sullivan’s first game as Pittsburgh’s coach comes against the Washington Capitals — second in the Eastern Conference — on Monday.

His first task as he takes over the new gig: “The most important element is to coach the mindset right off the bat,” said Sullivan.

“That’s where I can have the most immediate impact, and that’s what I’m going to try to do.

“Every coach has their beliefs and convictions that are different from the previous coach. But the most important aspect for me is to try and instill a certain mindset that will inspire these guys to be at their best.”