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6 Things Mike Sullivan Got Right, and Wrong This Season (+)



Pittsburgh Penguins, Mike Sullivan

In the absence of Ron Hextall and Brian Burke to soak up the angst and criticism of Pittsburgh Penguins fans, it seems the arrows are now pointing to coach Mike Sullivan as the Penguins fanbase hashes out the worst season in 17 years.

Sullivan has been blamed for the Penguins not having a tough roster, not playing prospects, not having prospects, Evgeni Malkin turnovers, refusing to make changes, and breaking up the Beatles.

OK, we’re kidding about the last one.

Emotions remain raw as the fog clears from the failed 2022-23 Penguins season. Last Saturday, Sullivan’s opening answers about his performance and his team’s failure to earn a 17th straight playoff berth shined a spotlight on the hollow feeling. 

The dejection in his voice, even days later, was immediately apparent.

At least until he was asked about making changes to the power play, then his voice and demeanor grew stern. Those of us in the press conference were treated to a little flare of Sullivan’s bench command.

And if anyone doubts Sullivan’s ability to command a team or bench, to anyone within close proximity to him, it’s immediately apparent that he’s a leader.

That’s his enduring strength and why he’ll be a head coach in the NHL, even if not with the Penguins.

He’s also constantly adapting to trends in the game. Even as fans ask what he changed, the Penguins’ fundamental attack was changed. Here’s a bit of a long answer he gave me after the morning skate on March 18 in New York.

“When we’re able to establish a forecheck, when we hang on to pucks in the offensive zone, force our opponents to expend energy defending us, we can dictate the terms,” Sullivan said. “When you look at the way the league and a lot of teams are playing, it’s not like teams are playing drastically differently. Speed is an element that’s common across the league.

“Puck pursuit is common across the league as the evolution of the game. And I think today’s game is more of a pursuit game than a possession game. You see more high flips and space plays than there’s ever been in the game … Controlling territory, I think it’s just an important aspect of controlling momentum.”

If you’re into evidence, the Penguins had more scoring chances this season than last. They had more rush chances this season (101) than last (89), a higher expected goals-for (224-201), and slightly more scoring chances (2173-2101). All stats are according to

Though serious questions can and should be asked if he surrendered too much of that leadership to his veteran team and failed to hold them accountable. It was the veterans who made mistakes throughout most of the season, especially those blown third period leads.

“We were trying to find ways to lose,” Kris Letang lamented after the final game.

What Sullivan Got Right, Wrong

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