Sullivan Reflects On First Season Without Cup

"We've got great players and I know how much they care and want to win"

Josh Rowntree
May 09, 2018 - 3:57 pm
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan

USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH (Newsradio 1020 KDKA) - For the first time since being appointed head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Mike Sullivan enters an offseason coming off a loss.

"I'm still not over the disappointed stage," Sullivan said at the team's final media availability Wednesday. "I have so much belief in this group of players, so when you fall short of your ultimate goal, it stings. I'm still not by that yet."

Besides the overall disappointing play of the team, individual performances stick out as being more than lackluster.

Phil Kessel, who was a catalyst in Pittsburgh's back-to-back championship runs, finished the postseason with just one goal.

"He was dealing with bumps and bruises, just like some of our other guys," Sullivan said. "I'd rather not get into the list of injuries that guys had, but it was nothing significant, I can tell you that."

Sullivan's comments on Kessel are somewhat contradictory to those of his general manager, Jim Rutherford, who said Kessel dealt with multiple injuries throughout the season.

Rutherford's biggest acquisition during the season was center Derick Brassard, who finished the playoffs with, like Kessel, just a single goal. Brassard's role was different than previous stops with the Rangers and Senators.

"There was a feeling out process or an adjustment process that he went through," Sullivan said of having to play behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. "I don't know if we ever got there, to the comfort level where we know he's capable of being the player we know he is."

Defenseman Kris Letang's return from neck surgery was an inconsistent one. Letang had 51 points in the regular season and finished the Washington series as the NHL's third leading scorer among defenseman in the playoffs.

But Letang was a minus-10 this year and had multiple defensive gaffs in the postseason that resulted in costly goals.

"He went through a major surgery, a major rehab, in a short period of time," Sullivan said. "I had an inclination that it was going to be a difficult challenge or a difficult process for him to overcome that."

Sullivan's handling of the lineup and his incorporation of young talent to play with Crosby and Malkin has been a calling card the last two years. But, this postseason, some of those moves failed to stick.

"The biggest challenge in coaching is human nature," he said. "Human nature is unpredictable. But that's also what makes it rewarding and challenging."

The Penguins will get an opportunity to have an entire month of added rest this season following two runs into June. Sullivan, however, appears ready to get to work.

"We've got great players and I know how much they care and want to win," he said. "It doesn't make it feel any better that we fell short this year, but what it does do is make me that much hungrier to do it again and I can't wait for day one of training camp to get back at it with this group."

 

 

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