Mike Sullivan was ready to talk. Less than 24 hours after the Pittsburgh Penguins coach looked wholly uncomfortable and found it difficult to react to and dissect a wacky 7-6 win over the New Jersey Devils, he addressed it Wednesday.
A couple times, in fact.
First, Sullivan broke with routine and gathered his players around him at the start of practice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex for an address that lasted several minutes.
It wasn’t a tirade. If that had been the case, no doubt Sullivan’s booming voice would have given it away. It seemed to be more of a teaching moment or a refresher.
Penguins defenseman Mike Matheson pointed out that addressing the team on the ice was a way for Sullivan to speak directly to his players, maybe look them in the eye. Normally, all interactions and meetings outside of practice are held virtually this season.
“It’s been tough, just with the way things are, with the regulations and rules with COVID, so it was an opportunity to talk to us and review the game,” Matheson said.
“As for specifics as to what the message was, that’s something that Coach Sullivan can share if he’d like to, but if not, it’s something that stays with the group.”
Sullivan, not surprisingly, did not publicly detail his speech to the players.
After practice, in his standard virtual interview with several reporters, Sullivan was more verbose than he was Tuesday night in breaking down what happened when the Penguins built a 6-0 lead through two periods, then had to hold on for a 7-6 win over the New Jersey Devils.
“Obviously, a lot went wrong in the third period,” Sullivan said. “We didn’t manage the game the right way. We put ourselves in difficult spots. So a lot went wrong. That was why it was difficult to react right after the game, in such an emotional environment.”
The same two teams play again Thursday, and again Saturday, all home games for the Penguins.
“We’ve had a discussion with the players on our thoughts and how we can improve and what we can learn from (Tuesday’s game) so that type of circumstance doesn’t happen again,” Sullivan said.
“We’ll move by this and get ready to respond to (Thursday) night’s game.”
Forward Jeff Carter, who just arrived this month in a trade with Los Angeles, got his first goal with the Penguins Tuesday. He also might have been taken aback by what happened in the third period.
But as a veteran, Carter knows how things play out in the aftermath of a game that could be rattling despite the fact that it was a win.
“After the game, no one was pleased with the way things ended,” he said. “We talked about it (Wednesday) morning. It’s a learning experience for sure. You think about it. You think about what you could have done differently.”