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Sullivan Focuses on Breakouts in First Practice

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins had their first practice under new head coach Mike Sullivan on Sunday at CONSOL Energy Center, and the one thing that stood out to the guys is the pace.

“It was hard. It was a hard skate,” forward David Perron said. “Pretty tired early on. He had a lot of energy in the room before and obviously on the ice, I think he’s really excited to be here.”

Defenseman David Warsofsky, who played 13 games under Sullivan in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton before getting called up to Pittsburgh last month, said that intensity is something the guys will definitely have to get used to.

“A big thing with him is that he wants to practice like he plays,” Warsofsky said. “When you are practicing fast, you’re doing things game-like – that’s what he wants out of practices. I think that kind of transitions into the game also.”

It’s only the first skate, so Sullivan didn’t get too involved with the X’s and O’s. The message to the team this morning before taking the ice, said captain Sidney Crosby, was just to focus on getting better.

“Just to make sure that we’re all attentive and make sure that we’re working together,” Crosby said. “It’s only been one practice. I’m sure there will be things we have to go over. But just to work together out there.”

The one strategy-related aspect the Pens did focus on towards the end of their 45-minute session was their breakouts.

“I wouldn’t say there are huge differences. There are minor tweaks here and there,” Warsofsky said of the breakouts. “He wants to get the puck into the forwards’ hands. Obviously when I was down in Wilkes, our forward group down there was very good too. I mean, if you look at the forwards that we have here, I think they’ve got to be the best in the league. I think it’s very important to break out of our zone clean and get the puck into their hands as soon as possible. You want them to make their plays as much as they can.”

Sullivan said the reason he wanted to work on coming out of the end zone today was because he believes strongly that it’s an important aspect of any team game.

“That will be a point of emphasis as it was today, and moving forward it will be a point of emphasis,” Sullivan said. “What I’m going to try to do with this group is, we’re going to try to define a team game. We’re going to try to define what it means to play the right way and down the details and we’re going to work on that daily.”

“He thinks when you execute coming out of the D zone, you have your best chance of scoring goals, off a defensive zone faceoff,” defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. “Off an offensive zone faceoff, you only have a six percent chance of scoring. He wants to really stress coming out of the D zone with speed and today, he tried to tweak a few things and tried to put that in our brains.”

The Pens did use line combinations about midway through the practice, and they remained unchanged from the last game. For now, Sullivan plans to keep them that way until he gets a better feel for the team.

“Everything’s on the table,” Sullivan said. “I spoke with the coaching staff this morning about that and got their input and the line combinations the defense pairs as they are. I’m not sure what I’m going to do as far as (Monday’s game against Washington) is concerned. But I’d like to get a little bit closer to it myself so I can get an assessment of what the line combinations look like and what kind of chemistry is there and if there is a need to try to tweak things. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to start playing games so I can see for myself and get a first-hand view of how this team is playing.”

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