To mark the three-quarters point of the season, NHL.com is running its fourth installment of the Trophy Tracker series this week. Today, we look at the race for the Jack Adams Award, given annually to the top coach in the NHL as selected in a Professional Hockey Writers Association poll.
Mike Sullivan has won the Stanley Cup twice as coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, but some of his best work may be taking place this season.
Despite an injury-depleted roster, Sullivan has the Penguins second in the Metropolitan Division, four points behind the Washington Capitals, and that makes him the favorite to win the Jack Adams Award for the first time, according to a panel of 18 NHL.com writers. Sullivan had 74 points and 10 first-place votes, finishing ahead of Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella, who had 56 points and five first-place votes.
Sullivan has the Penguins committed to playing a structured style to overcome the injuries, which started when forward Bryan Rust missed the first 11 games of the season (upper body) and forwards Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bjugstad each was injured in the second game of the season Oct. 5.
Since then, forwards Sidney Crosby (core muscle surgery) and Patric Hornqvist (lower body), and defensemen Kris Letang (lower body) and Justin Schultz (lower body) each was sidelined for an extended period. Forward Jake Guentzel (upper body) is out for the season. Still missing are forwards Zach Aston-Reese (lower body) and Bjugstad (core muscle surgery), as well as defensemen Brian Dumoulin (lower body) and John Marino (upper body).
Yet the Penguins, who were fifth in the Metropolitan, 13 points behind the first-place Capitals on Dec. 4, are 23-10-2 in their past 35 games. They went 10-2-0 in December, the best record in the NHL.
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"It takes willingness and a commitment to play the game the right way and the right mindset where we're not looking for excuses," Sullivan said this month. "We're looking for the opportunity to move this team forward. Once again, I'll point to the character of the players that we have, the group that we have. We have great leadership and we just have a great group of players that don't look for excuses.
"Guys have been given an opportunity to play more significant roles, and they've embraced those challenges. That's the mindset that this group has had all year long. It's that next-man-up mentality."
Marino and forwards Jared McCann and Sam Lafferty are among those who've made the most of their chances. And despite players moving in and out of the lineup, Pittsburgh is sixth in the NHL in goals allowed (170) and went 6-1-1 in an eight-game stretch to take over first in the division Feb. 18.
"The coach and players have to be all in together," Letang said in January. "The message can be as good as it is, but if they players don't want to do it or they don't buy into it, usually it's not going to go well. I think it's just the fact that we have a good chemistry with our coaching staff. They make us understand why we're playing this way. They show us the success that we got off it. I think that's why we believe in it and we believe in what [Sullivan] is bringing up to us."
Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis): Mike Sullivan, Penguins, 74 points (10 first-place votes); John Tortorella, Blue Jackets, 56 (five); Travis Green, Vancouver Canucks, 35 (one); Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning, 26; Dave Tippett, Edmonton Oilers, 22 (one); Craig Berube, St. Louis Blues, 12; Bruce Cassidy, Boston Bruins, 12 (one); Jared Bednar, Colorado Avalanche, eight; Paul Maurice, Winnipeg Jets, six; Rick Bowness, Dallas Stars, six; Alain Vigneault, Philadelphia Flyers, five; Todd Reirden, Washington Capitals, two; Barry Trotz, New York Islanders, one; Rick Tocchet, Arizona Coyotes, one
NHL.com independent correspondent Wes Crosby contributed to this report