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Sullivan’s Sacrifical Lamb to Shock Team from Slumber?

Did Mike Sullivan make an example of Ian Cole to shock his team from their season-long apathy? History and Sullivan’s coaching tree say yes.

The Pittsburgh Penguins high energy start Friday stood in stark contrast to the first-period malaise which has engulfed the Penguins Three-Peat campaign.  Tom Kuhnhackl scored on a penalty shot, Sidney Crosby jumped a Buffalo Sabres breakout pass and immediately roofed a wrister over Sabres goalie Robin Lehner. Then, Jake Guentzel outskated the Sabres for a wraparound goal.

All happened in the first period.

The Penguins continued the driven, hungry momentum they finally captured in the third period, Monday against Philadelphia. They’ve won three in a row, after a wretched effort against Vancouver last week, followed by a scattered performance in Boston last Friday.

Not only have the Penguins won three in a row, and they’ve also scored 14 goals including seven 5v5 goals. Easily one of their best stretches of the season.

And it looks like Mike Sullivan pulled a page from his friend and former boss, John Tortorella. Tortorella made a habit of singling out essential players to spark that player and keep his team honest.

Players who drew Tortorella’s ire and/or became healthy scratches include Vincent Lecavalier in Tampa Bay, Brandon Dubinsky and Brad Richards with the New York Rangers, Daniel and Henrik Sedin in Vancouver, and Ryan Johansen in Columbus.

The right-hand man in most of Tortorella’s blunt efforts was Mike Sullivan. In fact, Tortorella’s attempt to apply heat to the Sedins, and Sullivan’s cold execution, cost Tortorella and Sullivan their jobs.

Target Practice

Each player was a leader in the locker room. Tortorella confronted each to propel the player and team. Tortorella won the Stanley Cup in the same season he feuded with Lecavalier. He advanced to the Eastern Conference Final with the Rangers, and the Columbus Blue Jackets have set franchise records for wins and points.

Lecavalier later admitted how much Tortorella did for his game, though he indeed said nothing similar at the moment, back in 2004.

Some of the Tortorella targets were traded, others were not.

Confronted with a team out of the playoff seedings and struggling to find any urgency, it appears Sullivan made Ian Cole the sacrificial lamb to get the players attention…and most importantly, get the team’s attention.

Reports and stories of the strained relationship between coach and player were not exaggerated or a lie. Sullivan didn’t put on an act or fake it.

Indeed, if benching Cole was the game like he and Tortorella have used, it worked. However, scolding the media, as Sullivan did Tuesday, was a nice touch and a classic play from Tortorella’s playbook.

No, reporters did not create the story. For the record, off-the-record sources with first-hand knowledge did confirm to Pittsburgh Hockey Now that Ian Cole truly worried his days as Penguin were over.

Mike Sullivan Gamesmanship

Sullivan has engaged in gamesmanship on several occasions, but usually against the opponents. He had an injured Matt Murray take the starters net in practice before Game 1, Round 1 against the Rangers. Mr. Game 1, Jeff Zatkoff started the game.

Gamesmanship is nothing new to Sullivan. He’s good at it. But, this is the first time he may have used it on his team.

I don’t know it for sure, but given the circumstantial evidence, it sure looks like Sullivan deployed the “Torts Offensive” tactic to great success.


TV Day! Join us at 11:30am on The CW Network (Comcast 808, Fios 503, Channel 19) for Pittsburgh Hockey Now. Dan Kingerski of PHN and Bob Healy debate the Ian Cole situation, if the Pens can afford Patric Hornqvist and if players should sit out longer with a concussion.

Kenna James at Blush
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