On Tuesday afternoon, the Pittsburgh Penguins made head coach Mike Sullivan available to select media outlets to discuss the Penguins state of affairs and he and the players are progressing despite the coronavirus work stoppage. Earlier on Tuesday, Penguins defenseman Kris Letang posted well wishes and teasing for his teammates via social media. PHN presents the highlights from Sulivan’s presser in Q&A form.
The Pittsburgh Penguins won their final game before the NHL quickly paused the season due to the coronavirus. The Penguins beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 at PPG Paints Arena on March 10. The Penguins had been in a tailspin after a six-game losing streak and had lost eight of 10 games prior to their win.
Q: How has this pause been for you from a coaching perspective regarding preparations for a possible return, and has the break given you time to work on other aspects of being a coach such as reading or studying film?
A: It’s difficult because of the uncertainty. There’s really no timeline at this point so it’s hard because of the lack of clarity to do any sort of preparation for a return to play scenario. I’ve been in constant communication with (Pittsburgh Penguins GM) Jim Rutherford, my coaching staff and our players. We’re trying to control what we can to keep ourselves ready and keep ourselves engaged. To try to improve ourselves as a coaching staff and in particular me as the head coach, I’ve tried to take this opportunity to where we have some downtime where we’ve had some time to self reflect, do some reading and maybe look across other endeavors or other walks of life to see we can improve, or I can improve as a coach. I’ve been doing a lot of reading. I like to read–it’s hard to do during the season because of the demands of our schedule and our workload as a coaching staff–and I’ve been doing a fair amount of reading over the last few weeks. I certainly enjoy that and I believe it helps me become a better coach.
Q: How are you and the coaching staff communicating with the players to keep them engaged and are you using any virtual tools for film study?
A: We do stay in constant communication. We have WebX meetings a couple of times per week as a coaching staff. We have talked about potentially doing that with players moving forward, and that is something we may roll out here over the next week or so. We’re in constant communication. I’ve talked to players, personally. I know our strength and conditioning coaches are in almost daily contact with players. They all have customized fitness programs based on where they are and what resources they have available at this point. Our strength and conditioning staff has done everything they can to make sure the guys stay fit for a potential return to play scenario.
Q: In a conference call last week, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said he wouldn’t mind jumping right into the playoffs if the league resumes play. From a coach’s perspective, what would be the best way to balance what is fair, with what is feasible?
It’s not an easy question to answer because there’s really no clarity with the timeline. So, we don’t know how big the window opportunity is for us as a league. I do think the league is thinking all of the potential scenarios through. I know that we have great leadership in the league front office and they will do their best to try to find that balance of trying to finish the season as best they can and award the Stanley Cup. And, at the same time be as fair and equitable as they possibly can.
As a coach, the only thing that is important from my standpoint is that we do our part to control what we can be as ready as we can possibly be, given those scenarios. So, I’m not sure what’s fair or equitable because the time frame is uncertain and that’s going to be the biggest limiting factor on what the league is going to be able to do.
Q: With players left to their own devices and training with whatever they have at home, and most likely not skating, how long do you think is a reasonable amount of time to expect players to get into game shape and be ready for the intensity demands that would come with jumping directly into the playoffs?
Every team is in the same circumstance, so we’re all going to have the same time frames to prepare our teams to compete given the window of time that the league that will allow for some sort of mini-training camp. I would imagine depending given the time or how long this goes, I imagine somewhere in the neighborhood of two weeks to give the guys an opportunity to get back skating again, to get back involved with physical play, contact and things of that nature that are required to play at the intensity level required of you to play in the NHL, especially given the fact that if we do return it’s going to be a very high stakes scenario.
Q: Have you been able to put your finger on what happened during the recent losing streak? And looking back on it now, what did you appreciate most about the win in Newark?
There were a lot of circumstances surrounding the bit of adversity our team went through there before the suspension of play. We had a number of returning players coming off the injured list back into our lineup. The trade deadline was at the same time where we’re trying to assimilate new players into our lineup. There were certain players that we probably played and overtaxed and put them in tough scenarios from that standpoint out of necessity because of the injuries we had to endure. So there were a number of circumstances and trying to rationalize why our team goes through some of the adversity it went through. We felt as a coaching staff that we were starting to come together, that we were starting to find the chemistry again, and everyone’s roles and the new guys and how to utilize and their contribution to our group. So, we really liked the direction that we were going. The (New Jersey) game was a great indication, that was a real good win for (the Pittsburgh Penguins). We were playing a team that had a very good record in their last 10 game segment and beat a lot of good teams in the league. So, we felt good about that win. I think it was an important one for us. For our own self-confidence and getting some traction moving forward. It gives us a good feeling to hang onto, in the event there is a return to play scenario.
Q: What are your thoughts about getting Jake Guentzel back?
We would be thrilled to have (Jake Guentzel). Jake is a difference-maker, and I think I’m stating the obvious when I say that. The opportunity to get him back into our lineup makes him a more competitive hockey team. It gives us more balance. It gives us the opportunity to spread some of our talent throughout our lineup. I think it makes us more difficult to play against. It makes our top-six stronger. I think it strengthens our bottom six by nature of having a little bit more depth. There’s a lot of positive things with the return (of Jake) coming back into our lineup. When you think about the timeframe that was laid out, after Jake’s surgery, it’s reasonable to think that we would get him back. So, we’re excited about that potential opportunity. Knowing Jake the way we know him, he’s a real competitive kid. We know what this means to him. He loves to compete, and he’s a tough kid. (Inaudible)…We’ll have to see how that plays out for us. I think the potential challenges for Jake are game shape, and getting back timing. The adjustment to game intensity and gameplay and (things of that nature). Every player in a long time injury scenario faces that challenge in a return to play, so (inaudible), we think he can make that adjustment quick.