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Pick It Up: Sullivan Limited Pace in Camp, Now it’s Go Time

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Pittsburgh Penguins Mike Sullivan

Believe it or not, the Pittsburgh Penguins training camp has reached the halfway point. After just four days and an off day, the abbreviated camp in the runup to the abbreviated 56-game NHL season is at 50%. Penguins head coach Mike declined to offer a timeline for the looming roster calls, but the Penguins’ pace in the first half is about to pick up.

Maybe. Slowly. Probably.

The Penguins haven’t played a meaningful game in five months, and they only got four games. Otherwise, it’s been 10 months since most Penguins players have been in the daily, competitive grind.

“Hopefully, over the course of the rest of this camp, we can sustain a higher pace for a longer period of time. That’s the objective, and we’ll keep pushing there,” Sullivan said in response to PHN. “But we don’t want to overwhelm them, so we’ll keep an eye on that.”

The slower pace to the first couple of Penguins scrimmages was both expected and controlled by the team, but Sullivan wasn’t worried because most other teams are in the same position. Perhaps this is the first time when a short offseason is an advantage, and the Penguins long…long offseason isn’t.

PHN asked Sullivan if he was satisfied with the speed in camp. After all, GM Jim Rutherford built a roster for which speed will be the hallmark.

“It’s been what we expected it to be. This is certainly a work of progress, and the players haven’t been involved in-game action for quite some time now,” Sullivan said. “It’s going to be an adjustment process there. There’s a different type of conditioning involved there, just the clutching and grabbing, bumping and grinding. That belligerence in the battle areas.”

Sullivan’s voice carried through the empty PPG Paints Arena on Monday. As he diagramed the drill, he also explained to his players they would have to learn to play tired, including making good decisions.

It seemed fitting those words literally echoed. They should also figuratively echo throughout the short season.

The unique circumstances could help the Penguins wear out opponents with their speed, but the lack of conditioning may hinder them if opponents choose to grind them down. It’s easier to hit than it is to try to skate around opponents.

If things develop along those lines, expect to see many blown third period leads across the league. The Pittsburgh Penguins will be no different. It’s a short time to get into game shape, and overdoing it won’t help, either.

“We want quality reps, but if the fatigue factor gets to the point where the quality is compromised significantly, we’re going to shut it down,” Sullivan continued. “We’ve made a few of those decisions already. The coaching staff will continue to watch throughout this camp.”

Four days into camp with two scrimmages, it does not appear the Penguins have suffered any injuries. A clean record after less than a week may not sound like an accomplishment, but given last year’s parade to the trainer’s table, that seems like a big deal.

Though Sidney Crosby raised eyebrows on Wednesday when he briefly left the ice during the 5v5 scrimmage. He and Cody Ceci collided hard during earlier drills, but Crosby quickly returned to everyone’s relief.

Sullivan wants more pace moving forward. We should begin to find out more about Jason Zucker with Evgeni Malkin and the status of the Penguins prospects; who can hang and who isn’t close to ready.

The season is less than a week away, and the Pittsburgh Penguins speed is about to pick up. Sullivan hopes.

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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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