The right way.
It’s something the Penguins could not figure out six months ago. The frustrations were evident and you could cut the tension with a knife. It was baffling-a team with some of the best offensive players in the world was playing…. A defensive system? It was clearly not working.
And then in walked Mike Sullivan.
It took them their fifth game to get their new coach a win. Four losses under a guy that has reignited a team that is far too talented to have the results they did early on in the season. More than the wins though was the clear and obvious attitude change the team had under him, even when they weren’t getting the results they wanted early on.
Sullivan instills a certain swagger and confidence in his team that was as vacant under Johnston as his facial expressions. Even when they are losing a game they are never lost. With Johnston they could have lost a game ten minutes into the first with an opposing team up 1-0. There was literally no fire. Nothing.
Not with Sullivan. He keeps a calmness in them. The players know exactly what he needs and he knows exactly how to get it from them. There is a trust that existed from the beginning. He understands his players as people, he gets what makes them tick. And in turn he plays a fast, strong offensive game and preaches “the right way.”
I look at the Tampa Bay game in Pittsburgh on February 20th. We lost and the refs might have been blind. There was not a more frustrated player on the Penguins bench than Kris Letang and understandably so.
He noted that after the team flew out to Buffalo, he and Sullivan stayed on the plane talking about how Kris can’t respond like that. It seemed productive, like a coach that genuinely cared about the stress on Letang as a man. Since that, Kris has handled the stress of bad calls and silly refs as a fly he just needs to swat away. Sullivan is good like that.
The biggest evidence could have come against the CBJ game last Friday. They were doing everything they could to turn the Penguins into the team that took matching penalties and made bad mistakes. They didn’t, and they were rewarded for playing “the right way.”
This team is peaking at the perfect time under a man that has pieced them back together one by one. He didn’t just solve the Penguins as a team he solved them as individuals. He pushes them hard, he has high expectations but frankly that is exactly what they want.
He did this by preaching the right way, and then he decided to lead by example.