Mike Sullivan says injuries help Penguins simplify their game | TribLIVE.com
Penguins/NHL

Mike Sullivan says injuries help Penguins simplify their game

Jerry DiPaola
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan speak with Sergei Gonchar in the second period against the Red Wings Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2019 at PPG Paints Arena.

Through the first days of the season, the talk around the Pittsburgh Penguins has centered on an injury situation Mike Sullivan prefers to discuss behind closed doors with only his staff at his side.

Not with reporters — equipped with recorders, cell phones and easy access to the Internet – firing a lot of questions at him.

But the Penguins coach knows the facts of NHL life. He knows how to deal with the media and, more importantly, a crowded injured list.

Forwards Nick Bjugstad, Alex Galchenyuk, Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust are on injured reserve, but the Penguins have found a way to take a 2-2 record into their first road trip of the season, starting Saturday at the Minnesota Wild and moving to Winnipeg on Sunday.

He said the 2-1 victory Thursday against the Anaheim Ducks is proof that the team can win, no matter who plays.

The injuries make the job more difficult but not impossible in Sullivan’s eyes. And he feels no need to change his expectations.

“I think we’re going to simplify our style of play. When we do that, we’re at our best regardless of who’s in our lineup,” he said.

The injuries reduce the team’s margin for error, but they also drive it toward the type of game Sullivan wants to see every night.

“When you have the amount of injuries that we have at this point, I think it’s essential that we manage the puck appropriately,” he said. “That we make sure that we play within structure. And when we do that, we’re hard to play against.”

Sullivan said the team is on a three-game streak of keeping the opponent’s scoring chances “at a very reasonable number.”

“More importantly, the Grade-A scoring chances, we’ve limited in three games in a row and that gives our team a chance to win on any night.

“We don’t feed a team’s transition game. We force them to play goal line to goal line. We’ve had numbers back a lot. We haven’t given up a lot of chances off the rush. We haven’t given up a lot of odd-man rushes.

“When you win a game and it’s a good team win and a group effort, it provides a lot of evidence that if we play the game a certain way we can win on any given night.”

2-D look

Without Malkin, Sullivan has used two defensemen — Kris Letang and Justin Schultz — on the power play. It’s a significant change from the one-defenseman look, but it allows Letang more freedom to roam.

“I’m going to go a little bit deeper in the zone and try to make plays down low when you know you have another defenseman back there,” Letang said.

Sullivan likes the way the puck moves when he calls for that look.

“When the puck moves and people move, I think they’re dangerous. That’s when they’re at their best,” he said. “When you look at the group of them, they are such great instinctive players they can act on their instincts when they move, and that’s how opportunity presents itself.

“As coaches, we are trying to really encourage the movement. (Letang) or (Schultz) are being asked to be part of that when they’re not just up top.”

Kahun at his best

Sullivan said Dominik Kahun played his best game this season against the Ducks when he skated on the second forward line with Jared McCann and Patric Hornqvist.

And it was no accident.

“Part of it was because he was cast in a top-six role and had a regular shift,” Sullivan said. “I’m sure that helped him.

“He had three Grade-A scoring chances, hits the crossbar on his best one. I thought he was much more active and impactful in the game.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Penguins
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