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Penguins Room: Why Sullivan Pulled Nedeljkovic; Ned Faces the Heat



Pittsburgh Penguins, Alex Nedeljkovic faces music

The Pittsburgh Penguins lost to the Boston Bruins 6-4 on Saturday at PPG Paints Arena. They showed heart and resilience but also many bad habits, which have been their constant companions on the 82-game schedule.

The loss cast a pall on the Penguins’ playoff hopes and further raised the specter of offseason upheaval if they fail to play beyond Game 82.

Michael Bunting had a pair of goals (his second goal was later changed to Evgeni Malkin). Drew O’Connor’s shorthanded goal in the third period brought the Penguins to within a 4-3 deficit and the fans nearly blew the roof off the arena.

But the Penguins got no closer.

What made the loss painful, O’Connor spoke barely above a whisper in the locker room, were victories by the Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings. Both jumped past the Penguins in the standings and now lead by one point with two games to go.

The Penguins no longer control their own destiny.

The postgame was largely about two things: the Penguins’ failure to defend and Alex Nedeljkovic. It surely seemed that coach Mike Sullivan vigorously defended Nedeljkovic, instead blaming¬†his team.

Nedeljkovic remarkably met with the media after the game to face the heat from a subpar performance, showing real guts and leadership.

Alex Nedeljkovic

Was it fatigue?

“No, no, actually, I thought I felt fine today. Felt better than I did Thursday night,” Nedeljkov You know this. Was pretty good. First period. We played pretty well. We didn’t give them much. Yeah. I don’t know, just. Yeah. I don’t really know how to explain that one.”

Credit Nedeljkovic for standing in there and taking questions about an incredibly disappointing night in which he stopped 13 of 16 shots. He didn’t have to, but he did. That’s a big-time standup move.


Drew O’Connor

Coach Mike Sullivan called O’Connor’s game “inspiring.”

O’Connor scored a shorthanded goal in the third period, bringing the Penguins back into the game and bringing the crowd to life.

In the locker room, O’Connor’s voice was barely audible. He left everything on the ice, and the loss was obviously devastating.


Mike Sullivan

The Penguins coach was not pleased with his team’s defensive performance. For the second straight game, the Penguins allowed five or more goals.

However, Sullivan vigorously defended Nedeljkovic, who took more than his share of the blame for the goals. He also downplayed pulling Nedeljkovic in the second period after allowing three goals.

Typically a coach might concede the goalie wasn’t at his best, but Sullivan limited his reasons to jolting the team.

“We gave them some pretty high-quality looks, so it’s not an easy game to assess goaltending when you give them the type of looks that we gave them,” said Sullivan. “Ned’s given us some great hockey here. He’s battling hard for us. The decision I made was based on just trying to change momentum for our group, to see if it could give us a jolt. It was more about that than anything.”