Sullivan: We Are, By No Means, A Slow Hockey Team

Penguins coach says responds to criticisms that team has become slow

Josh Rowntree
November 20, 2018 - 3:01 pm
Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan (top) gestures on the bench against the Montreal Canadiens during the second period at PPG PAINTS Arena. Montreal won 5-1.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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Don’t tell Mike Sullivan that his team is slow. He’s not buying it. 

The Penguins coach went on a three-minute verbal dissertation Tuesday when asked ab out the floating criticisms that the rest of the NHL has caught up to the Penguins speed and that the team has not made stylistic changes to adjust. 

“I would agree that the League is getting faster,” Sullivan said. “I would agree that, for the most part, it’s a copycat League and teams tend to try to emulate the teams that have success. When you look at our team, over the last handful of seasons, we’ve had pretty good success with a certain style of play. 

“That style of play is built on the core of our team and, when you look at the core of our players, (Sidney) Crosby, (Evgeni) Malkin, (Phil) Kessel, (Kris) Letang, all of those guys can skate. They can still skate.

“So we believe that there’s a style of play that gives our team the best chance to win. Now, have some teams closed the speed gap? For sure. But I think that’s just the evolution of the game. Show me a team that’s trying to play slow, that’s winning. Show me a team that’s trying to play on their heels, that’s winning.”

With the Penguins having lost nine of their last ten games, the worst stretch since he took over as head coach in 2015, Sullivan is looking for options to combat the recent struggle. But he maintains that the basic structure of the team’s system is just fine.

“It’s easy to throw darts and suggest that the style of play is the reason why we’re having the struggles that we’re having,” he said. “We can do a better job executing, we can make smarter decisions as a group. We’ve got to work together and work cooperatively together. 

“I think there’s an assumption out there that we just throw caution to the wind and there’s no calculation to the game in our aggression. There’s inherent risk in being passive out there, too, and letting teams just come at you.”

The Penguins will look to break a a four-game skid Wednesday night, when they host Dallas at PPG Paints Arena. Sullivan seems to anticipate that his stars will respond. 

“When you look at the core of our team, our team can still skate,” he repeated, very matter of-factlty. “Now, can other teams skate? Sure they can. But we are, by no means, a slow hockey team. We can still skate.”

Hear all of what Mike Sullivan had to say below. 

Notes:

• Sidney Crosby, who has missed the previous three games with an upper-body injury, was a full participant in Tuesday’s practice. Crosby took the game day skate before Monday night’s game against Buffalo, but did not play. Indications from Sullivan and Crosby are that he will have a better chance of getting back in the lineup.

• While one star in Crosby returned to the ice, another was missing, as Evgeny Malkin did not practice. Sullivan, however, said after practice that Malkin was simply given a maintenance day. It makes sense, as the Penguins are in the midst of five games in eight day.