When Steve Sullivan
signed with the Penguins last summer, there was some concern from the media and the fans surrounding his injury history.
The veteran forward missed the entire 2007-08 season and 153 straight games (including playoffs) with a back injury. After returning to play a full 82-game season in 2009-10 with Nashville, Sullivan missed a significant amount time during the 2010-11 regular season with a sports hernia.
He then suffered a knee injury in Game 3 of Nashville’s second-round matchup with Vancouver and missed the remainder of the series.
But Sullivan has proven that those injuries are buried in the past. Not only has the 37-year-old winger been one of just six Penguins to appear in all 69 games so far this season, but he’s also elevated his game and hit his stride as Pittsburgh heads down the stretch.
“I feel great,” Sullivan said. “I think that everyone says that I’m injury prone, but I just think that the injuries I’ve sustained have just been enormous so I missed a lot of games. But right now, I feel very healthy and I feel good.
“When you get to these times in the season, sometimes you might be a little bit fatigued. But I think the way the schedule has been working here being in the East compared to being in the West for so many years, that many more nights in my own bed at home has been really good.”
After scoring 22 points through his first 48 games, Sullivan has 17 points (6G-11A) in his last 21 games – including a season-best seven-game point streak from Feb. 18 to March 3.
He attributes that consistency to finally feeling confident within head coach Dan Bylsma’s aggressive, offensive-minded systems. Sullivan explained that while they’re not overly hard, they are totally different than what he was used to with his previous teams – and for him, it’s been a matter of getting familiarized with a number of different scenarios.
“I just think for you to be successful in it, you have to go through it,” Sullivan said. “You have to find the right timing on different plays. I think you have to see all sorts of different situations in order to be comfortable and to know where to go and where to be.”
Sullivan isn’t the biggest guy at 5-foot-8 and 161 pounds. His greatest asset has always been his speed – “he’s still got a ton of speed for an old bag,” joked linemate Pascal Dupuis
– and Sullivan has figured out how to best utilize it here in Pittsburgh.
“I’m starting to get my timing down pat,” he said. “Once that happens, I’m able to use my speed the way I want to and be successful that way. I’m not just blowing out of zones and going too fast and having to stop at the far blue line. So you want to get the timing issues. Once you can get that, this system is really fun to play.”
Sullivan has been thriving on a line with Dupuis and Jordan Staal
, which has been arguably the Penguins’ best trio by combining for 31 points in the last 10 games they’ve played together.
Sullivan has also been a key cog in turning the Penguins’ power-play success around from last season with his ability to bring the puck up the ice and man the point on the man-advantage.
He’s been a critical component of the Penguins’ success all season, and his teammates are happy that he’s now getting the points to show for it.
“‘Sully’ is a big part of our team,” forward Chris Kunitz
said. “He’s a guy who’s been able to switch around from line to line to get guys going, but also a key on the power play to bring the puck up and to bring that little veteran presence that he has when he’s carrying the puck and making the right plays.
“He might have been a little snake bitten early. He wasn’t getting the bounces. But right now he’s showing his speed up the wall and scoring key goals for the team. It’s a huge for him to be in our lineup and playing as well as he is.”