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Penguins' Sullivan holds key to post-break success

Jonathan Bombulie
| Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, 11:57 a.m.
Detroit Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson (52), of Sweden, is hit from behind by Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (71), of Russia, during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Detroit, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Jose Juarez)
Detroit Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson (52), of Sweden, is hit from behind by Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (71), of Russia, during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Detroit, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Jose Juarez)

The Penguins face an interesting challenge as they host the Detroit Red Wings at the end of their CBA-mandated five-day off week Saturday afternoon.

They have to figure out how to best roll off a beach and into a competitive hockey game.

It's a trick they've pulled off extraordinarily well in the Mike Sullivan era.

Since Sullivan took over as head coach in December of 2015, the Penguins have gone through six league-mandated breaks of at least three days or more – three for Christmas, two for the All-Star game and one for last season's bye week.

They've won the first game back all six times.

This season, they came back from Christmas with a 5-4 shootout win over Columbus. Last season, off their bye week, they routed Tampa Bay, 6-2.

Sullivan said his focus when coming off a break is to get his players into a competitive mindset as quickly as possible.

“How do we snap their attention and prepare them physically, obviously, because they haven't skated in a few days?” Sullivan said. “We tried to run a practice (Friday), for example, that wasn't overly long in length, but it was high in intensity. The reason for that is to try to prepare them for the intensity level of today, to prepare them for that competitive mindset that's necessary to win.”

Tristan Jarry is expected to start in goal while Matt Murray is away for personal reasons.

Defenseman Chad Ruhwedel has been skating with the team as he recovers from an upper-body injury suffered Dec. 27, but Sullivan said he is not ready to return to the lineup Saturday.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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