Penguins get chance to earn elusive victory on home ice
January 2, 2016 12:00 AM
Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan wants the team to rethink its offensive approach entering tonight's game against the New York Islanders.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Mike Sullivan has accomplished a lot during his first three weeks as coach of the Penguins.
He has infused a team that often had looked distracted, if not disinterested, with energy and passion.
He has revived a power play that flat-lined through most of the first 2½ months of the season.
He has overseen Sidney Crosby’s re-emergence as an offensive force as Crosby has put up three goals in his past four games and eight points in his past six.
And now, Sullivan can try to do something truly stunning: Coach the Penguins to a victory on home ice.
They are 9-7-3 this season at Consol Energy Center, a record just nominally better than their 9-8-1 mark on the road.
And they have been particularly unproductive there the past month or so.
The Penguins enter their game against the New York Islanders tonight at Consol Energy Center with a 1-3-3 record in their past seven games at home and are 1-3-1 there since Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston behind the bench Dec. 12.
Sullivan said Friday that “sometimes, when you play at home, there’s a little bit of added pressure to perform [for the crowd],” but suggested that the Penguins’ biggest problem might reflect the need for a philosophical tweak.
That while the idea of the game is, of course, to finish with more goals than the opponent, putting an emphasis simply on scoring them — rather than effectively executing a sound plan that ultimately leads to goals — is misguided.
Sullivan said that reality registered with him while reflecting on video he had watched of the Penguins’ 3-2 shootout loss to Toronto at home Wednesday, before he spoke with his players Thursday morning in Detroit.
“It dawned on me that we’re trying to outscore teams,” Sullivan said. “Maybe when we’re at home, it’s even that much more prevalent, as far as our mindset of trying to go out and outscore teams.
“What I posed to the players was, maybe we have to re-think our approach and not try to outscore teams, but to try to outplay teams.”
The logic of that is hard to dispute, for a well-conceived game plan that is executed efficiently is a powerful tool.
“If we outplay teams by making good decisions with the puck, by not putting ourselves in a position where we beat ourselves through a lack of discipline or a lack of puck management or a lack of [attention to] detail, then we force opponents to have to bring their ‘A’ game and make really good plays and pay a price if they’re going to beat us,” Sullivan said.
“If we’re more concerned about trying to outplay teams, we’ll score, because we’ll play the right way. When we do that, that’s when we’re at our best.”
Sullivan stressed that his objective is not to stifle creativity, to turn world-class talents into fourth-line automatons.
“My experience of being around the elite players in the game, they see the game differently than everybody,” he said. “That’s what makes them as good as they are.
“I don’t ever want to get in the way of that, as a coach. I think it’s important that we give them the latitude to act on their instincts. That’s when they’re at their best.”
Sullivan also praised how his players are investing in their work.
“What I like about our guys — and I can feel it on the bench — is the emotion and the energy and the passion,” he said. “With each game I’ve been here, I can feel more energy behind the bench.”
Might even help them earn another home-ice victory at some point.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG
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