There is a new world order in Pittsburgh.
Pens new head coach Mike Sullivan arrived Saturday evening and addressed his team Sunday before practice with a simple message.
“I challenged them to embrace the process,” Sullivan said. “I told them hockey is a hard game. It’s a hard sport. It’s hard to win. We have to embrace the struggle here. We have to embrace the process. I think if we do that we have the best chance moving forward.”
Part of that process involves the formation of the Pens’ identity, something that seems to be lacking through the first 28 games of the season.
“I talked to them about creating an identity as a group and we’ll speak towards that and we’ll define that,” Sullivan said. “We’ll work towards that. I think the importance of creating that identity and down to a man is ‘what’s your contribution to helping this team win?’”
Sullivan wants the team’s identity to mirror their strengths on the ice.
“What are our strengths as a group and how do we play to those strengths to have a competitive advantage?” Sullivan said. “I don’t think it’s any secret that the Pittsburgh Penguins are built around speed and skill. That has to be part of our identity on how we’re going to play.”
However, a team’s identity isn’t just measured on the ice. It begins before they even step on the ice.
“Part of our identity is a mindset,” Sullivan said. “It’s a team that’s difficult to play against. How do you create that? It’s a team that doesn’t defeat itself by lack of discipline or lack of structure or lack of commitment. There is a lot that go into an identity above and beyond the style of play.”
Ultimately though, the formation of the team’s identity will fall to the players and how they execute on the ice.
“The players have to take ownership of their team,” Sullivan said. “It’s their team. It’s not mine. It’s our job to help them and challenge them to reach their potential.
“For me, that’s my challenge.”
Talking about an identity and creating one are two different ideas. It’s easy to say you want to be a difficult team to play against. But it’s only accomplished with the details.
“We’re going to try to define a team game,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to try to define what it means to play the right way down to the details. We’ll work on that daily. We’ll come to the rink every day and try to get better.”
Most teams begin to build their identity in training camp and forge it through the early part of the season. Sullivan will have to get the Pens to accomplish that 28 games into the season.
Sullivan feels that a one-day-at-a-time approach is the best way of handling that task.
“We can’t get overwhelmed by the circumstance,” Sullivan said. “We have to focus on the process and have an unwavering commitment to that process of trying to get better, trying to improve, trying to define what we are as a group.”
And if they do that, Sullivan believes that the Pens can fulfill their potential.
“I think we have a chance to be a great team,” Sullivan said. “But we have to show that through our actions.”