Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan held a conference call with the media. Here is a transcript of that conversation.
On what’s most revealing about the team since taking over: The biggest thing that I’ve grown to admire about this group is the character within it. When everyone on the outside looks at the Pittsburgh Penguins, they see elite stature with some of the players. I was one of those guys having coached against them for a number of years. When I had the opportunity to come here and now coach these guys on a daily basis, you get to know them as people as well as players. I’ve really grown to admire the character in the room, how much they care about winning, their work ethic, their daily approach at trying to get better and improve. As a result of that, we’ve really established here a nice chemistry amongst our players. They’re a driven group, and I have a lot of respect for individuals on the team for that.
On role players contributing: That’s the essence of a team. We’ve dealt with a lot of adversity over the last four, five months. We’ve had a number of injuries that we’ve had to deal with. We’ve lost key players for long stretches of time. We challenged this group on a weekly basis, daily basis to embrace the challenges in front of them. It seems like every night different people step up at different times and make important key plays that help us win. Sometimes they’re game-winning goals. But sometime they’re subtle plays, on a penalty kill, blocked shot, won faceoff. For me, that’s the essence of a team. That’s what I’ve grown to admire about this group. They work hard for one another. There is good chemistry amongst the team that we have right now. It’s a lot of fun to be around it, a part of it and watch it. And to see these guys play as hard as they do for one another, as their coach, it’s a thrill. We have great leadership. It starts with (Sidney Crosby) and our captains, but it goes beyond that. Right now we have a nice mix of young players with a veteran core group that get along extremely well. I think because of that chemistry it really helps both sides, whether it be the core guys or the role players step up and make big plays for us at key times that help us win.
On leading the series despite not scoring on the power play: I don’t know if I’m surprised or not surprised. We’re trying to take each game as it comes and do everything that we can to win that hockey game. That’s been our approach. We know we have a lot of work ahead of us. We’re certainly pleased with the position that we’re in at this point. I think the power play has had times where we were close and we’ve had times where we struggled. I think there are a few factors for that reason. You have to give Washington credit. They have a very good penalty kill. They’re putting our power play under pressure and forcing our guys to have to make plays under pressure, which is never an easy thing to do. I think our penalty kill is doing the same to theirs, which is a very good power play as well. We can be a little better with our execution in-zone. We’re very pleased with the entries that we’ve had, our success over the course of the series, as far as our entries. But I think our execution in-zone can be a little bit better. It’s more about taking what they give us and not trying to force a play, whether it be a seam pass or working the perimeter right, working the width and depth of the zone in order to look for opportunities to get pucks to the net and attack. I think if we just simplify the game a little bit on our power play and take what they give us, I think we can have success.
On his relationship with John Tortorella: It’s flattering when ‘Torts’ says that. I’m not sure I agree with him. I certainly learned a lot over the years from Torts and working together with him. We are two very different personalities for sure. I think we share similar philosophies on how to run a hockey team. All the years that I worked with Torts I was very impressed with his preparation process, with his organizational skills, with his clarity and conviction on how he wants his team to play and establishing an identity for his teams so that they can play to their strengths. For me those are really great attributes that I noticed early on working with Torts. I shared very similar philosophies in that regard. I think there are a lot of really good coaches in this league. I think the organizational skills, the preparational process, attention to detail is so critically important to helping your team try to establish a competitive advantage. It’s also important as the leader of the group, the head coach, that you really have to steer and direct the identity of your team as far as what are your strengths and what is your competitive advantage, and how you play to those strengths. That’s something that I think Torts did a great job with over the years when I coached with him. I try to do the same with this group that we have here in Pittsburgh.
On if he thought he’d be a coach again after being fired in NY and Vancouver: Sure. I think that’s part of the business that we’re in. There are only 30 head coaching jobs in the NHL. There are a lot of really, really good coaches out there that work extremely hard, that are very prepared, diligent in their jobs. There are a lot of capable guys. When you choose to get into this profession you know, or certainly I knew, what was at stake and how difficult the job is and the challenges that it presents. Having said that, I love what I do. I love being around the game. I love the interaction with the players. I love the competition. Over the last 12, 13, 14 years, however long I’ve been coaching in this league, no matter what capacity, head coach, assistant coach, whatever it may be, I truly love the job and going to the rink every day. I’m very fortunate to have this opportunity to coach this team. I don’t take one day of this for granted because I know how difficult it is. I know how many capable hockey coaches, and real good hockey coaches, are out there. That’s the world that we live in in the coaching fraternity. We all know it. But we all love the game enough to endure the challenges that the profession presents.
On working as a development coach with Chicago last season: It was a great experience because it was the first time that I got an opportunity to see the business from a different vantage point. I think sometimes when you’re on a coaching staff, you’re in your own foxhole or your own bunker. You live in your own little world trying to help your team win. When I got an opportunity to work with the Blackhawks, I got a chance to see different aspects of the business and experience different aspects of the business, and it offers you the benefit of perspective. How the scouts go out and work as hard as they do to apply to players, the challenges that the management team is presented with, how hard the development guys work to bring these players along and expedite their development process and get prepare them to play at the highest level. I think you really grow an appreciation for how hard everybody works at their respective area of the business in order to help your organization succeed. I had an opportunity to see that firsthand last year with the Hawks.
On Sidney Crosby’s injury status: I have not got an update today. I didn’t get out of the rink until after 1 o’clock in the morning so I haven’t had an opportunity to speak with the medical staff today. I don’t envision anything significant moving forward.
On his use of the word “fragile” on team’s state when taking over the Pens: When I first took the team over, the reason I took the team over is because they were in a difficult circumstance. My experience of being around this game both as a player and coach, when you’re in those types of situations where expectations haven’t been met, and there’s a lot of pressure on everyone involved to try to perform, it’s not an easy environment to go to work in everyday. These players are human beings. Coaches are as well. When you’re trying to do your best to excel in those circumstances, it’s difficult. Confidence is such a big part of this game. When everyone around you is pointing fingers or suggesting there is doubt around the group, I think it creates a fragile environment. One of the things that I tried to do when I got here, was not dwell on the circumstance, as far as the position the team was in. Just to focus on trying to get better everyday, focus on the details of our hockey. That was my message to the players. We know we aren’t in a great circumstance. We’re not happy with where we’re at. But it’s up to us to try to change it. The way we’re going to change it is not dwell on the circumstance, but focus on the details of just getting better everyday. We’re not going to listen to the noise that surrounds the team. That was our approach. That has been our approach since I’ve taken this team over. It’s been a very short-term focus, let’s focus on the challenge in front of us each and every day. I think that’s what’s allowed us, or helped us, to climb back into the standings, to get some wins under our belt, to establish some traction and start to establish an identity as a group. I think as you start to enjoy some success, it breeds confidence. When the team starts to feel that way, they’re in a less fragile state. I think one of the biggest challenges of coaching is trying to influence the mindset of the group. So fragility is something that becomes a part of teams when they don’t have success. How you handle those adversities is a big part of your ability to climb out of those situations. That’s probably why I used that word when I first took the team over. I think we are in a totally different state of mind at this point. I think our resilience and our resolve as a group has become a strength of this team. I credit our leadership group for that. I think it starts with ‘Sid’ and ‘Geno,’ Chris Kunitz and Matt Cullen, Kris Letang and players of that stature. It trickles down to our young players. These guys are the key reasons for why we’ve been able to become a more resilient group and establish the type of success that we’ve had here down the stretch.