'The hockey gods will turn the other way. It will change.'
November 2, 2011 4:00 AM
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
There were a few concerns about Steve Sullivan when the Penguins signed him to a one-year contract on the first day of free agency, July 1.
He turned 37 less than a week after signing. At 5 feet 8, 161 pounds, there were some questions about his size and durability, especially given his injury history. He missed the 2007-08 season and 40 games the next season because of back problems. He was limited to 44 last season because of a sports hernia, and a knee injury knocked him out of the playoffs.
The upside was that the guy can score.
He had 266 goals, including two seasons with more than 30 and six more with at least 20. A veteran who can play either wing and complement any of the Penguins' top three centers seemed like a natural and a bargain at $1.5 million.
Through 13 games going into the contest Thursday at San Jose, Sullivan has been healthy. He has used his speed and savvy to fit in, playing on a top line with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal when Malkin has been healthy. He has three assists, three hits, one blocked shot.
But nary a goal.
Not a pretty one. Not a bang-bang lucky one. His career meter is stuck at 266.
"I'd take anything right now," Sullivan said. "If someone wants to give me one, I'd take it."
Sullivan can joke about it and his teammates can get on him about it -- a little -- because perhaps as many as half of his 24 shots have been golden chances.
In the most recent game, a 4-3 loss Saturday at Toronto, he had one of those. He moved across the slot with the puck, left to right, holding the puck, being patient until he had an opening inside the post to score, but somehow Maple Leafs goaltender Jonas Gustavsson slid over and nabbed the puck with his glove.
"It seems like right now the goaltenders around the league are making their unbelievable saves on him," winger Pascal Dupuis said.
Dupuis also has had some prime chances, and he has converted three of them. He sees no difference, essentially, in what he's doing and what Sullivan is doing.
"He's not struggling. He's getting the opportunities," Dupuis said. "The hockey gods will turn the other way. It will change."
That can't happen soon enough for Sullivan.
"I'd love to score goals," he said. "No one wants to score goals more than I do right now, but I think I've got to make sure I keep doing everything else around my game, make sure I'm doing those things right and trying to make a contribution everywhere.
"I think the goals will come. If I get 12, 13 scoring chances like I have had in the next 12 or 13 games, hopefully, I'll have four or five goals by then.
"I'm getting a lot of scoring chances."
Dupuis, listening in, interjected, "a lot of chances."
Sullivan couldn't argue that.
"Yeah, I'm getting a lot of chances," he said.
"I've just got to stay positive. There's no use dwelling over not scoring. I've got to stay positive about it and keep doing what I'm doing."
On offense, he means.
He's not looking to add a lot of new tricks to other parts of his game, such as backchecking. Not after he pulled off such a stellar move against Toronto.
Backtracking while the Tyler Bozak carried the puck down the right side and into the Penguins zone, Sullivan bent over and executed a perfect hip check, an old-time move that was a specialty of former Penguins defenseman Randy Hillier.
It not only separated Bozak from the puck but also sent him sprawling to the ice.
"You're playing defense and you're trying to read the play," Sullivan said. "He was wide, and I don't think I could have turned and taken him to the net, so I decided that that was my last-ditch effort. It worked out really good."
But don't look for it to become a habit for someone pushing 40 with a history of back trouble.
"Definitely not," Sullivan said. "That's not going in the old toolbox. It was spur of the moment."
Not like scoring, something ingrained in Sullivan.
"Hopefully, I didn't forget how to score goals over the summer," he said. "I think I'm going to the right areas and getting the puck in the right places.