pit

ON MIKE SULLIVAN’S DEBUT BEHIND THE BENCH

Washington Capitals

Beau Bennett is hurt again. But that’s probably not a fair assessment as to whether or not anything will change with Mike Sullivan as the new coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Only a yet to be discovered alignment of the planets will likely change that fate.

As far as matters that can be controlled by the human beings running the team, Monday night’s box score also suggests that the Mike Johnston-to-Mike Sullivan swap won’t yield much of a difference. Another loss (4-1 to Washington) in which Pittsburgh struggled offensively. Another empty effort on the power play. Another night where the Pens gave the puck away more often than they took it away.

But a deeper look at the numbers infers some good may come from the coaching change. The Penguins did generate 45 shots on goal. They uncorked 34 more that were either blocked or missed the net. They also tallied 34 scoring chances.

And, on a more intangible angle, they actually looked like they were trying hard. That was something that general manager Jim Rutherford said was lacking from his team under Johnston at times. But on Monday, the Pens went hit- for-hit with the Capitals (37-36 Pittsburgh). They battled in the faceoff circle winning 54% of draws. And Nick Bonino even got into a fight, a rare occurrence at Penguin games of late.

“I thought we played with energy. I liked our aggression. I thought we were on the puck. Our feet were moving,” said Sullivan after the loss.

So, that stuff was good….right?! That was the sign for hope that this coaching change may help the club…perhaps?

But some unfortunately familiar issues continued to plague the Penguins in Sullivan’s debut. One of which, by the admission of the players, was still an inability to get the puck out of their own end and through the neutral zone with consistency.

“Execution wise, [hide] I think he (coach Sullivan) wants us to make a few more plays coming out of our end. I think he wants us to be more poised in that area. I thought we showed signs of that in different parts of the game. But it’s not something that is going to happen overnight,” said team captain Sidney Crosby.

This is something that could be fixed in part by last night’s acquisition of Trevor Daley from Chicago. With him coming in, and Rob Scuderi heading out, Rutherford is hoping that equates to a better Penguin transition game.

“Trevor can skate. He can move the puck. That’s something we have talked about. Trying to improve that…improve our back end by getting more puck movers. And he can certainly do that,” said GM Jim Rutherford.

The power play was also a disappointment as Sullivan admitted the team passed up some shooting opportunities that were present. Another area of frustration that seems to be carrying over for coaches, management, and fans alike.

But what may have been the biggest reason for Johnston’s undoing manifested itself once again in Sullivan’s debut. And as was the case with Johnston, this may be something Sullivan can’t fix. This was another evening when Pittsburgh’s alleged “high level talent” failed to cash in on numerous scoring chances.

Evgeni Malkin scored Pittsburgh’s lone goal on a deflection. But in a combined 16 other attempts Malkin, Crosby, and Phil Kessel failed to score. For being some of the most skilled players in the world, the Penguins sure do have a hard time burying chances. Pittsburgh is 24th in 5-on-5 shooting percentage at 6.5%.

“I think we need to do a better job of taking the goalie’s sight lines away,” Sullivan pointed out. “I thought we generated a lot of shots. But I thought he saw a fair amount of them. We need to make it more difficult on our opponents’ goaltenders by getting more people to the blue paint.”

That also can be a product of harder work. But now that the Scuderi/Daley trade has been made, all the answers are going to have to come from within for a while, as Rutherford has stated he wants Sullivan to get accustomed to the current roster before making any more deals.

“I’d like to give Mike a little time with this group and see how it settles in. And then we will take a look at it,” confirmed Rutherford. “I think our team is pretty good. But we need to get a few breaks around the net.”

So Rutherford is comfortable with the current roster and coaching staff for now. But if the Penguins are still on the outside of the playoffs looking in at the trade deadline, expect that notion to change. Because it may be the GM’s job that’s on the line by then.[/hide]