PITTSBURGH — It didn’t take much to get Mike Sullivan wound up about the Pittsburgh Penguins overtime performance this season. They beat Florida 3-2 in OT, Tuesday but in the past 10 days, they did not complete excellent performances in Philadelphia and Buffalo with wins. Instead, the Penguins lost in overtime, just as they have more often than not this season.
Yep, the uber-talented, historically dominant-in-overtime Pittsburgh Penguins have a losing overtime record this season. After the win over Florida, the Penguins OT record improved to 6-9. To simply reverse the overtime record to a winning 9-6 would put the Penguins one point out of first place in the Metro Division.
What a much different conversation that would be.
“Historically this team has been very good three on three. And. You know it’s been a little bit it’s been a frustration point from my standpoint this year because I know we’re capable of a lot a lot better,” Mike Sullivan said as his volume, tempo and maybe blood pressure began to rise. Clearly, the overtime issue was a hot button topic. “And when you think about the overtime opportunities that we’ve had. That we haven’t maximized and we’d be in a much better position if we did.”
Perhaps images of Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel flashed through Sullivan’s head, as the pair were on the ice for what seemed an eternity in Philadelphia during the Stadium Series game, which resulted in a Philadelphia OT win.
And as if teaching a class to a bunch of media folk, Sullivan then bore down on the details with some ferocity.
“I just think it boils down to the details. For me overtime is about– It’s about puck possession. It’s about shot selection and it’s about line changes. And if you’re locked in with those three things then you significantly increase your chance of having success,” he explained. “We’ve got a skill set that should do well in the overtime because it’s hard to create a game plan. From a defensive standpoint, it really boils down to man on man. There are only three guys on the ice.”
The Metro Division-leading New York Islanders are 8-7 in overtime this season. The second-place Washington Capitals are 9-7. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the third place Carolina Hurricanes are 7-9. Overtime wins mean extra points and the teams with the winning records are fighting for the division crown while those with losing records are fighting for the playoffs.
“It’s about puck possession. So you’ve got to be smart in the shots that you choose. And you know we try to use the dots as a guide,” Sullivan said. “A lot of times when you shoot the puck from outside the dots at the goalie makes a save you start in the break go the other way it could turn into a 2-on-1 going the other way and then it’s a domino effect.”
When the odd-man rushes start, goaltending becomes the key. This season, the Penguins have been the recipient of some very good goaltending, but not consistent goaltending. Tuesday night, Murray was stellar when he had to be. Had the Penguins lost, they would be just one point ahead of Columbus for the final wild-card spot, one point behind Montreal for the top wild-card spot and one point behind Carolina for third place.
Most importantly, had the Penguins squandered another superior effort, they would trail Carolina by two ROWs. Instead, the Penguins left happy, but their coach still with a lot of frustration over the past overtime failures.
“We’re trying to possess the puck as much as we can. We’re trying to change smart so we don’t get caught out there with extended shifts. And you know we’ve had opportunities where we just haven’t been as good,” Sullivan said before concluding. “And that’s on all of us, myself included.”