Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan earned a little brusqueness. While he was obviously furious after his team flatlined in a 2-0 shutout loss to the New York Islanders, he did not vent on the media on Sunday evening. He wasn’t belittling or demonstrative, emotions his former boss John Tortorella would flash during tense situations. Though a few more words may have been on the tip of Sullivan’s tongue.
Sullivan held his fire with the media but his seething anger at his team’s performance could hardly be contained. Or blamed.
No one would blame him if he let a few of us have it, either. We are a pack of hyenas, especially after bad losses. Instead, he bit his tongue but did have a few curt answers.
After sitting through his postgame, one can imagine the words he had for his team after they had just two shots in the first period and never really challenged the New York Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum.
As one of a few reporters who have covered Sullivan’s entire tenure, this was the angry version of Mike Sullivan we’ve seen only sparingly. Clearly, he was not a happy camper after his team fell at least two points out of a playoff spot and did so with yet another effort that omitted large portions of the game.
We’ve slightly condensed the questions for easy reading. The answers are verbatim.
Q1: The penalty kill has given up a goal in 15 of the 20 games you’ve played this year, is there any common theme that has led to futility in that area?
“It’s a number of things. It’s just not good enough. We’ve got to be better.”
Q2: Was there anything before the game that gave you a sense of the kind of first period your team would have?
Q3: John Marino mentioned they played hard high in the zone. Was there anything that the players maybe weren’t prepared for or that surprised you?
“Every team plays in the top half of the offensive zone. With the way teams play in this league, with collapsed coverage, the only way to spread them out is to play in the top half of the offensive zone. It’s a common theme, more and more, that is the way the game is evolving.
We do the same thing. We just didn’t play nearly enough there tonight.”
Q4: The penalty kill looked like it was beginning to turn a corner. There were four games against the Washington Capitals where you allowed just one goal in 11 chances. Which side tells the accurate story? Are you starting to make improvements or relapsed?
“We are what we are.
We’re giving up too many goals there.
It’s not good enough.”
Q5: What would the score have been if Casey DeSmith did not play as well as he did?
“Casey played good.”
Reading the questions back, we can be annoying. Sullivan typically gives extended answers but even his patience seems to be ending with a team that is 11-8-1 and has not put pieces of the puzzle together for more than one game in a row.
Sullivan typically speaks for seven or eight minutes. He clocked in at a Ramones-like 1:56, including questions, on Sunday.
Fans often want coaches to flip tables or turn the air blue on players after losses like this, but that rarely happens. I transcribed the Sunday postgame presser because I think you share Sullivan’s irritation and frustration.
Juggling lines. Benching players. In this stage of the season, he is the little Dutch boy plugging his finger in the levy. As he addresses one problem, two more spring forth.
GM Ron Hextall and President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke haven’t yet been on the job for a month, but they may be pressed into action sooner than they anticipated.
A few more wins sure would make the Pittsburgh Penguins postgames more pleasant.
Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan: