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Sullivan Sternly Defends Penguins Power Play, Will Have Role in Transition



Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan

Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, in his season-ending press conference Saturday, touched on several topics, including his role in the management transition team. But by far his most impassioned words came when he was asked about the power play.

The Penguins feature top-end talent to deploy with the man-advantage – including Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Jake Guentzel — and they converted on 21.7 percent of their chances in 2022-23. There were times they moved the puck with authority and created strong chances. There also were times they gave up shorthanded scoring chances, or had a tough time gaining the offensive zone and getting set up.

Sullivan gave a long defense of the power play, often with his voice stern and his expression defiant.

“I think our power play finished 14th in the league, if I’m not mistaken. Is that correct? Our net power play finished 10th. Is that correct?” he started. “OK, so when you subtract the goals against from the goals that they scored, they’re 10th in the league. So they’re top third in the league. Actuals, all right?”

He then got into some analytics that, he said, showed “they’re getting some pretty good looks, and they’re getting to spots to get those looks.”

“Now, the expectations are high with that group, right?” Sullivan continued. “And would we have liked it to be better in certain circumstances? Sure we would have. (Are) there areas for it to grow? Absolutely. We’re always trying to find ways to help that group improve and get better. I think with a little bit more finishing on some of those looks, they actually could have climbed higher, but that’s hockey.”

Sullivan said the Penguins assessed the power play throughout the season, including strategy and personnel, and will continue to do that through the offseason.

To sum up, Sullivan said, “I don’t think it was as bad as sometimes (people) perceived it to be. I think there were moments we could have been better. There were also long stretches where they were difference-makers for us.”

Sullivan will be doing more than assessing the power play in the near future. Dave Beeston of Fenway Sports Group, owners of the Penguins, identified the coach as part of the transition team in the search for new  upper management after general manager Ron Hextall, president of hockey operations Brian Burke and assistant GM Chris Pryor were fired after the team failed to make the playoffs.

“FSG will go through a process to find a new general manager that will lead our team moving forward,” Sullivan said. “In the meantime, we’ve got to do our best to continue to operate efficiently and effectively. And there are a number of people … that are part of that process, me being one.

“My role in it is just going to be the hockey side, assessing our team, where we’re at, where we think we need to go moving forward, identifying needs, things of that nature. So I think I will just be one voice (in) a group of people that will do our best to make sure that the Penguins continue to operate at an efficient and effective level.”

As far as a key member of that personnel, goaltender Tristan Jarry received kudos from Sullivan. Jarry has said he dealt with injuries all season, and he is a pending unrestricted free agent.

“I think Tristan is a top-tier goalie in this league,” Sullivan said. “I’ve said this all year long, and I believe he’ll continue to be moving forward. … This year was a particular challenge for him for a lot of reasons, but I think Tristan is a very good goalie in this league.”

As for the team as a whole, Sullivan also gave his stamp of approval.

“I believe this team has the makings of being a very competitive hockey team,” he said. “Our core players have the ability to play at an elite level.

“Our challenge moving forward … is identifying how we can continue to improve and get better.”

While some players, such as Jarry, have been dealing with injuries, Sullivan said as far as he knew none would require surgery.