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Sullivan Mum on Goalie Decision, Letang Off Top Power Play?

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Pittsburgh Penguins Mike Sullivan

Loose lips sink ships. Or so the Pittsburgh Penguins believe. As coaches across the league pledged to reveal their practice and gameday line rushes and discussed other decisions related to their preparation for the 24-team NHL Stanley Cup tournament, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan instead evaded questions and did his best Bill Belichick routine on Wednesday.

Penguins fans hope Sullivan has the same success as Belichick, too.

On Wednesday in practice, the Pittsburgh Penguins made a change to the power play, which was awful against the Philadelphia Flyers in the exhibition game on Tuesday.

However, reporters are not permitted to cover practices due to COVID-19 safety measures.

Sullivan hinted at the change without admitting the details. Based on his vague description, one could easily extrapolate the Penguins removed defenseman Kris Letang from the top unit. However, that’s not confirmed or even admitted.

“We’ve discussed lots of things, and part of that is deploying players and making sure we manage certain minutes of certain guys,” Sullivan said. “There are some players that are our top penalty killers that are in our top-six. So, if we have guys who are in our top penalty kill, our top-six, and in our top power play, the minutes climb pretty fast in a really challenging playoff atmosphere.

We’ve got to do a good job to make sure we manage the minutes, but we’re sorting through that stuff. We had a good practice today. We utilized a different look today, and we’ll see where it goes.”

Sullivan certainly wasn’t describing Jack Johnson or Justin Schultz as being a top penalty killer and on the top power play. Only Letang fits that description, so it seems the Penguins are considering going back to Justin Schultz as the lead on the top unit.

PHN will dive into Xs and Os analysis of the power play, but one exhibition game flop doesn’t define the unit. It should be noted that Philadelphia Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault and New York Islanders boss Barry Trotz have seen the Penguins power play more than any coaches over the past five years. Their PK similarly attacks the Penguins rush and attacks the Penguins at the top.

The Penguins mustered four shots on three power-play chances against Philadelphia in the Penguins 3-2 OT loss on Tuesday. They didn’t score and perhaps didn’t have a high-danger scoring chance.

The other pressing issue as the Penguins prepare for the Montreal Canadiens in the best-of-five Qualifying Round is the starting goalie. Multiple team sources told PHN on Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning that Tristan Jarry impressed decision-makers in training camp, and some were in favor of starting Jarry over incumbent Matt Murray.

It still seems unlikely that Jarry starts, but the existence of advocates for the move was noteworthy.

This season, Sullivan has not publicly picked a winner in the goalie battle though his actions in the second half of the season showed he preferred Murray in the net.

Jarry said neither Sullivan nor the coaches had told him if he will start or backup.

“No, we haven’t been told anything. It’s just taking it day by day,” Jarry said. “(We are) just making sure our practice habits are staying where they need to be. It’s just preparing like we both need to be playing. Whoever gets the call on Saturday will be ready.”

Per custom, Sullivan declined to elaborate on the situation and praised both goalies. He said the tape from Tuesday showed both played well. Sullivan also shutdown any inquiry into the process of picking the starter.

“I’d rather not divulge the process that we go through on how we make the decisions we make,” Sullivan said coldly. “That’s just part of the coaching staff’s philosophy and the way we’ve gone about our business as a coaching staff here in Pittsburgh.”

The Penguins must secretly love external speculation because they certainly create a lot of it.

“What I can tell you is that we have two capable guys. We feel very comfortable with the depth we have, especially at the goaltending position.”

And that’s that.

The Pittsburgh Penguins might well pull a couple or few surprises on Saturday with the power-play setup, and with the starting goalie. I guess they wouldn’t be a surprise if we already knew.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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